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CORNELL 

UNIVERSITY 

LIBRARY 




BOUGHT WITH THE INCOME 
OF THE SAGE ENDOWMENT 
FUND GIVEN IN 1891 BY 

HENRY WILLIAMS SAGE 



Cornell University Library 
PR 9599.B25P4 



The persimmon tree and other stories. 




3 1924 013 247 881 



A Cornell University 
9 Library 



The original of tliis bool< is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924013247881 



THE PERSIMMON TREE 



AND OTHER STORIES 



(By 



^M^arjorie ^arnard 



THE CLARENDON PUBLISHING COMPANY 
SYDNEY 



Registsred in Australia for Transmission 
through the Post as a Book. 

COPYRIGHT 



Distributors . 

B. G. WHITE, Callaghan House, 391-393 George Street, 

Sydney. 



Wholly set up and printed in Australia by 
BLOXHAM & CHAMBERS PTY. LTD. 

SYDNEY 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 



The Author wishes to thank : John Fairfax and Sons 
Pty. Ltd. for permission to reprint the following stories which 
appeared in The Home and The Home Journal. " Arrow of 
Mistletoej" " The Persimmon Tree," " The Bride Elect," 
" Beauty is Strength," " Canaries Sometimes Advertise,"" 
" The Woman Who Did the Right Thing," " It Will Grow 
Anywhere," " The Wrong Hat," " Dialogue at the Ballet," 
" The New Dress," " Sunday," " Dry Spell." 

The Editor of The Bulletin for permission to reprint 
" The Lottery." 

The Editor of the ABC Weekly for permission to reprint 
" The Dressmaker " and " Fighting in Vienna." 

Messrs. Angus & Robertson for permission to use again 
" Dry Spell " and " The Persimmon Tree " which appeared in 
Coast to Coast. 

MARJORIE BARNARD, 



CONTENTS 





PAGE 


Arrow of Mistletoe . . 


7 


The Bride Elect 


.. 15 


The Persimmon Tree 


.. 21 


Beauty is Strength 


. . 26 


Canaries Sometimes Advertise 


. . 37 


The Woman Who Did the Right Thing . . 


. . 47 


It Will Grow Anywhere 


.. 55 


The Wrong Hat 


. . 63 


Tinkling Cymbals — 




(a) Conversation in a Buffet 


. . 66 


(6) Conversation in a Tea-room 


. . 69 


(c) Dialogue at the Ballet 


. . 74 


The Party 


. . 79 


Fighting in Vienna . . 


. . 85 


The Lottery . . 


. . 97 


Sunday . . 


.. 106 


The New Dress 


..118 


Habit 


. . 126 


The Dressmaker 


. . 140 


Dry Spell 


..152 



ARROW OF MISTLETOE 



ARROW OF MISTLETOE 

Because she loved him she knew when he was dis- 
tressed, even when he had successfully hidden it from 
himself ; and because she had complete faith in him, 
sometimes she was afraid. She never made the least 
effort to understand his financial transactions, though he 
talked to her enough about them. His imagination — ^he 
was a man of creative imagination working in the financial 
field — drew stimulus from the lambent trust and love 
in her wide, hazel eyes. It led him on. He did things 
then and afterwards — but more particularly afterwards — 
that a man with a clever wife might not have done. 
She certainly reassured him on the point that most 
people were fools. She encouraged in him the streak of 
bravura which made him so spectacular a figure, by 
not recognising it as anything out of the way. All those 
companies and trusts and things were his toys. She 
never for a monemt imagined that they were real. She 
wanted him to be happy. Even being rich was a game 
she played to please him. There had been ups and downs, 
some of them very declivitous, and they had left their 
hidden mark on her. She had learnt to wince. She 
might be stupid . She was also sensitive. And she loved 
him. She trusted him. 

She was in a way quite an asset. Some people, a few, 
thought it a curious aberation that a financial genius, 
like Gilespie Munro, should openly idolise this slender 
little thing with the heart-shaped face of a dehcate child, 
and the pretty manners of a well trained debutante. 



8 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Others found it touching. No breath of scandal ever 
connected his name with any other woman's. The idea 
got round that because he was faithful to his wife he 
was a decent sort of chap, and a man you could trust. 
Astute business men were influenced by the fact. Tough 
people are usually sentimental — the harder the head the 
softer the heart. It helped to build up confidence. Con- 
fidence was Gilespie Munro's raw material. Give him 
enough and he could build Xanadu overnight. He could 
do marvels with it, not because he was a swindler but 
because he was an artist. He believed — and he was long 
past believing in anything else- — that the thing you im- 
agined was as real as the thing you had, beside being 
much better in every other way. There were times in 
his career when he had walked the tight rope over chasms 
and even the tight rope and been imaginary. So far he 
had always reached the other side. It was a matter of 
faith, in himself and in others. 

Widows thought he was Galahad. That wasn't the 
same thing, but it was profitable. 

Lisca Munro played her part. She was, if in a rather 
original way, her husband's helpmate. She was part of 
his curious legend, for it was certainly bizarre for such a 
man to live in respectable fehcity with his wife, and to 
exhibit to the world not diamonds round her neck but 
trust in her eyes. 

A career like Gilespie Munro's cannot stand still, nor 
can it even move at a moderate pace. The big scale 
adventurer must amaze by his audacity, his intrepidity, 
his brilliance. His methods must conjure up the imagina- 
tion of those he leads and lives upon, yet he must contin- 
ually outstrip them. He must make them mad in his 
own likeness or there will be nothing on which to float his 



ARROW OF MISTLETOE 9 

schemes,, but, if they ever catch up to him he becomes 
a commonplace and so is ruined. Suspecting the;mselves 
they wUl see through him. He must keep them dazzled.. 
He must increase his light till one day someone notices 
that the sun is a black spot beside it and then the word 
goes round that things are a little queer, not quite sound. 
Just before the war Gilespie Munro reached a crisis in 
his affairs. The moment had come when he must trans- 
form confidence into faith, the most chancy of miracles 
and one that required all his flair, all the sublety of his 
most blatant bravura. To clinch his schemes^^the most 
stupendous and far reaching his brain had ever con- 
ceived — he needed, not argunient but some fabulous 
gesture. 

The schemes themselves he had created largely in 
monologue with Lisca. Pacing up and down the great 
gallery of glass and steel overhanging the harbour, that 
gave to his home the quality of a luxury liner, he built 
up, elaborated, shaped and tested the Idea from its 
first conception in his fertile brain. Hour after hour, 
day after day, Lisca listened to him and gave him her 
attention. It was always like that. He could not, in his 
seasons of creativeness, work alone, or on paper. He 
must talk and intoxicate himself with talking ; he must 
have for his anvil the plasticity of another mind, any 
mind, but in practice, it must be Lisca's because in all 
the world he only dared trust Lisca completely. She 
didn't understand, and even the chinks of her incom- 
prehension were stopped with love. She had the best, 
the most serviceable kind of faith, the faith that did 
not even try to understand. 

It was tiring for Lisca, but she was glad. It meant 
the breaking of the drought. Something like this was 



10 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

due and overdue. She knew, she had felt for some time, 
that things were going badly with them. There had been 
no change in the externals of their life, yet she had felt 
everywhere ebbing credit pull like a tide and, though he 
had never abated his sales talk, she had sensed distress 
and flagging in her husband. Now that was gone. They 
would climb again out of their trough. Gil would be 
happy and dynamic, and the tide of money would come 
pouring in again. 

The Idea had taken shape before her eyes like a vast 
cumulus. Monopoly Mortgage. A Creditors' Combine. 
The compounding of securitites on the grand scale for 
fixed incomes, the piecing together from them of a far- 
reaching hold over industry, swamping of boards, control 
of banks through the massing of overdrafts till the fi- 
nancial system became the inevitable plaything of one 
overgrown debtor. Power treated like money, and money 
treated like power. Shareholders subscribing not money, 
but securitites. Power leased to poUticians and interest 
collected in parliamentary, not tretisury, bills. 

Out of the fiery nebula something cold and implacable 
was eventually shaped. Gilespie Munro began to organise. 
Of course the law would have to be altered but that 
was not difficult if the right people were interested. In- 
volve enough of the right people — the really powerful 
people — those with most to lose, and the scheme was 
safe. They would safeguard it as part of Their Order. 
They must protect themselves. The others, the share- 
holders, would be necessary padding. So Gilespie Munro 
sent out his bright young men to work every field, set 
up his screen of publicity, pursuaded men to work for 
him who had no idea they were working for him, alien- 
ated those whose hostiUty would be useful, sowed strange 



ARROW OF MISTLETOE 11 

seed in many furrows, created a legend and wrote a 
prospectus. . . . 

The Idea came back to him from a hundred sources. 
Monopoly Mortgage was in the air. It wore the face of 
Financial Salvation. It became the Investor's Dream. 
Gil had his mass backing. It remained only to storm the 
inner circle of half a dozen men, and of these only one 
or two mattered. Even in them the artist was hidden 
somewhere and so they were, or should be, susceptible 
to magic. One man in particular Gilespie Munro believed 
to be the key and pivot. If he were convinced, the rest 
would follow. To convince him he would sweep him off 
his feet by some unrelated and unexpected tactic. 
Gesture not argument. 

And so Gilespie Munro planned, with the daring of 
simplicity, his fabulous dinner party. It was to be a 
display of power as surely as a Roman triumph. The 
hundred most powerful men in the city — and their wives 
— were to eat his salt. A hundred mugs. And what 
salt ! They could sprinkle gold dust on their food and 
it would be cheap. Everything about this dinner, but 
particularly its costliness, should amaze, dazzle and 
intoxicate. 

He expounded all the details to Lisca with an en- 
thusiasm that she did not find contagious. For the first 
time she was alarmed. This was something she under- 
stood. Millions would not have disturbed her, they would 
have floated serenely over her head, no more real than 
toy balloons, but this dinner was going to cost money, 
money you could see. She was appalled by the amount. 
She knew for a certain fact that they had not enough 
money, that this was a wild and desperate business. The 
precariousness of their world was first revealed to her in 



12 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

this dinner party. Her heart sickened with fear, notf 
for herself but for Gil. * 

She protested hesitantly. " But, Gil, the money. We 
can't possibly afford it." 

He laughed at her childishness, her dear naivete. 

" Money isn't real, my dear, only thinking makes it so." 

Lisca was not comforted. He took no notice. He 
went on telling her and telling her all about it and it 
grew in the telling. He pointed to one name on the list 
of guests. 

" That's the important man — ^the one we have to 
dazzle." 

Lisca shrank. She thought she would have to sit be- 
side this man and be part of the dazzlement. 

Gil reassured her. " Oh no, you go in with the 
Cabinet Minister. This old fellow." He flipped another 
name contemptously. " You don't treat really im- 
portant people as if they were important. Let them 
think that you don't know. He'll sit here." He pressed 
his little finger on a carefully chosen spot on the plan. 
" He will have the best view of ever3d:hing and yet not 
feel himself singled out," 

Lisca acquiesced, but her unhappiness grew. This 
dinner would ruin them. She steeled her courage to go 
through with it. 

When the day came it found her adequate. The 
Important Man bowing over her hand found her altogether 
charming. In greeting scores of people she had kept her 
sincerity. She wore only the subtlest touch of make up 
and round her delicate throat only a single string of 
pearls. Among the hundred bedizened women she was a 
rarity. 



ARROW OF MISTLETOE 13 

The Important Man sat in his carefully chosen seat 
and watched the spectale with interest. He ate the 
stupendous food with amusement. He looked and he 
listened and congratulated himself on being at the top 
of his form. He decided that he was the only detached 
person present, the only mind that retained its objectivity. 
All the others, not excluding his .host, had allowed them- 
selves to be dazzled. The tho;ught put him in a high 
good temper. The whole thing plucked at his imagination 
and indulgently he let it. Gilsepie Munro could organise 
victory. He'd hand him that. He was a man who Brought 
Things Off and wasn't that the whole secret ? Maybe he 
had brought something new into the world of finance. 
There wasn't much doubt about the cogency of the Idea 
but would it work ? If it worked it succeeded. But was 
there enough confidence in all the world to float it ? The 
foods, the wines, the scents, the pageantry wrought upon 
him. The man was a magicajn. This thing was bizarre, 
incredible but perfect. It was only a sample, of course . . . 
He saw through it, naturally. Munro obviously intended 
him to. . . . All these people dazzled silly by a spot of 
display. A nice little allegory. Clever. He'd split the 
difference between their credulity and his, shown him 
how easy it was to move them, harness them up, these 
important people. Between us, Munro and I could clean 
up the lot. . . . 

The Important Man looked about him. He had the 
habit of weighing everything. As one man of imagination 
trying out another he tested every detail for a flaw. In 
every dish and under every table he looked for his host's 
feet of clay and did not find them. He could not have 
organised a great coup better himself. His glance re- 
turned to what he considered the crowning touch. 



14 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

He saw the white face of Lisca Munro, her anguished 
eyes, her trembling hps; 

He followed her gaze. Four waiters were ceremonially 
carrying in a magnificent set piece. Shoulder high, with 
slow pomp, as if it were the ark of the covenant, they 
bore a crowning edifice of spun sugar and ice, wonder 
of this pastry cook's art, miraculously surrounded by 
flames. The diners were all spellbound for a moment 
then staffed to clap with joy. 



THE BRIDE ELECT 15 



THE BRIDE ELECT 

The afternoon of the first hot day of spring hung heavy 
as a drop about to fall. There was a feehng of departure 
in the air. "A last supperish sort of day," Myra thought. 
From the sheds a quarter of a mile away where the 
shearing would begin to-morrow there came a confused 
clamour. Myra was not sufficiently used to country 
noises to know if these were normal sounds or not. Jim 
would cock his head and say " That sounds like Benny 
with the tractor in the boundary paddock," and Thea 
would answer critically " It sounds more like O'SuUivan 
to me," when, probably, Myra could hear nothing at al). 
This confused noise, like a cloud of dust shot through 
with the sharp yapping of dogs, hung on the rim of the 
golden afternoon like the faint blur of irritation that 
had settled on Myra's happiness. It only seemed to 
emphasise the quiet that hung over the homestead. A 
plump black Orpington had found her way into the 
garden and was scratching complacently among Thea's 
seedlings. She was the only living creature that stirred 
about the place. The maids had gone over to their own 
quarters and wouldn't be back till Ruby came to get 
the afternoon tea. All the life of the homestead had 
drained down to the sheds. The kennels under the pepper 
tree, where the dogs were tied, were empty. They had 
gone, out rabbiting with Benny. Laddie, the sheep dog, 
who was never tied up, had followed Jim down to the 
sheds. 

Thea was somewhere about, Myra supposed, but she 
did not want Thea. They had long ago run out of things • 
to talk about. They had nothing in common, except 



16 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Jim. Thea resented her, Myra knew. She did not think 
that she would make Jim a good wife. She hated her 
dehcacy. And it was that that Jim loved, her exquisite 
fraility, her helplessness. Thea thought Jim ought to 
have a sensible wife. Of course Thea had been very 
kind to her in her brusque way — but you could hear 
everything in this shell of a wooden house. There was a 
fragment ot conversation that stuck like a thorn in 
Myra's memory. Thea's voice saying, " You know it 
never does work. A city girl doesn't settle down happily 
in the country. And a delicate one — ^They never fit in," 
and then abruptly, irritably, as if pushing an irrelevancy 
out of her path, " Oh, I know she's lovely." It really 
didn't matter what Thea thought, for Thea would not 
tie here when they were married. She had said in her 
forthright way, "I'll be off as soon as the hone5nnoon is 
over." Jim needn't feel unhappy about her. Something 
hardened and stiffened in Myra. Jim was a dear, big 
softie. He'd mumbled something about Thea loving the 
place, growing up there. Perhaps he hoped Myra would 
ask her to stay. That sort of thing never did work. Thea 
had married. She hadn't loved the place enough to stop 
her marrying away from it. She had a life of her own 
and two boys and a girl at boarding school. Let her go 
and live it. Thea wasn't M5n:a's idea of a poor, helpless, 
widow woman. Still, she would rather Thea had liked 
her. She was Jim's sister. Everyone liked her except 
Thea and Laddie. 

How the afternoon dragged on ! It was her last. 
To-morrow she would be gone. She could not help feeling 
a little aggrieved that Jim had left her alone this after- 
noon, and she had been irritated too by the way he had 
excused himself, anxious to point out how important 
his work was as if she might make a fuss like a child. It 



THE BRIDE ELECT 17 

was the shearing, of course no one talked of anything, 
else, the weather, the clip, the arrangements. It- was all 
so important. It made her feel an outsider, as if she were 
wilfully being excluded. It made her even doubt if she 
were, after all, the pivot of Jim's life. Next year, when 
they were married, it would be her shearing too. 

M5^a was at a loose end. She wished now that she 
had asked Jim to get down her trunk so that she could 
pack. That trunk had been a surprise to Jim when it 
had been lugged out of the guard's van on to the siding. 
He'd whistled. Three suit cases and a trunk. He must 
have expected her to travel with just a bluey. He'd 
had to send the utility truck in for the luggage. But he 
had liked the frocks that came out of.it. Her pretty 
things were always a lovely, exciting mystery to him. If 
only she had the trunk down now she could pack. Jim had 
swung it up there on the top of the wardrobe to be out 
of the way. It didn't seem to weigh anything iii his 
hands, but, if she were to try to pull it down herself, 
she'd have an heart attack. She loved Jim's strength, 
it was like a strong wall about her. And Jim loved her 
weakness. Jim was going to make her really safe at last. 

Myra moved idly out on to the verandah. The commo- 
tion down at the sheds irked her. It had only been going 
on for a few minutes, but it seemed to have been hammer- 
ing at her nerves for hours. It sounded ominous, urgent, 
as if something was happening. Myra hated any sort of 
violence. It shivered and scattered the "delicate world 
that she collected about her and that she needed. Thea 
belonged in that rough alien world, she could always 
turn out in an emergency and help the men. She always 
knew what to do, she had a whole world of values that 
were Greek to Myra. She had let her skin become 
weathered and her hands coursened, and yet somehow 



18 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

everyone valued Thea. She made it quite clear to Myra 
that she was an outsider but no one seemed to notice 
her rudeness, not even Jim. Thea had them bluffed. 
Myra knew that Thea was unassailable, that while Thea 
was there, she too would have to subscribe to this legend 
of her being wonderful, or be accused of feminine jealousy. 
What about Thea's feminine jealousy ? It was so obvious 
that Myra could have laughed. But Thea was going 
away. It was Jim's world too, but Jim wore it with a 
sort of flourish. He brought it to her and laid it at her 
feet. It was, in some odd way. Laddie's world more 
than anyone's. Laddie, Uke Thea, did not want or trust 
Myra, and Myra minded Laddie's polite hostility more 
than Thea's. Laddie really was unassailable. Jim valued 
him more, Myra thought, than it was reasonable to value 
a dog. He was a Scotch Collie with lion coloured head 
and paws, a darker back and great plumy tail, not a big 
dog, getting old, and very gentle. He had beautiftil 
manners, and was a good sheep dog. He would only 
work for Jim, no one else had ever handled him. Myra 
wanted to be friends with Laddie, he seemed an easy 
conquest. He stood politely still when she patted him, 
rolling up his eyes at Jim as much as to say, "Is this 
alright ?" When she had offered him food from her plate 
the table he had refused it, turning away his head. She had 
felt rebuked. There had been an odd little smile on 
Thea's face. Laddie wouldn't go with her down through 
the orchard to fetch the mail. " He never follows anyone 
but me," Jim had explained. " He's a one man dog. 
All good sheep dogs are." Jim hadn't tried to help her, 
he hadn't ordered Laddie to go with her. He had in a 
way taken Laddie's side. 

She had even, just as if she were curr5dng favour with 
the dog, taken his side against Jim when she thought 



THE BRIDE ELECT 19 

Jim harsh with him. " He's a working dog," Jim 
had explained, " you mustn't spoil him." There even 
was something sacrosanct about sheep dogs, something 
that she, an outsider, must not tamper with. 

Myra leaned on the verandah rail and looked over the 
country. It was beautiful and she loved it. It was wide 
and gentle and good. She knew that she was going to be 
happy here, it soothed her at once. The house stood on 
a hill facing east, it was surrounded by a half circle of 
wattles, tarnished now to bronze, but the view in front 
was left clear. The garden sloped down into the neglected 
orchard, the almond trees were in leaf, the peached and 
the plums in bloom, the wedge of vineyard, without a 
single bud, looked blue. Beyond was rising ground 
again, patched with the red of fallow, the bright green of 
young wheat, and neutral sheep-coloured paddocks, 
tussocky so that even in the distance they had texture. 
(She must learn to hate No. 10 wire grass.) Beyond 
again were brown-green hills on which a scattering of 
trees showed like blue pom-poms. Here and there was a 
silvery patch of water, a dam, and the big white silos by 
the siding looked like a chateau. Myra knew that nobody 
saw this scene with quite her eyes. It meant something 
different to her. She knew it, coming fresh to it, in a 
way they did not. And it flattered her, this big fertile 
countryside. It made her feel like a changeling, a fairy 
child. 

Jim had been so anxious for her to like it, so eager for 
it to please her. " It's not always like this," he warned 
her. In the summer it was burnt brown — a brown purple 
like the Arizona desert, she thought, never having seen 
the Arizona desert. There were dust storms and heat. 
Well, if it were too bad she could not stand it. Jim 



20 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

would have to send her to the coast for her health. She 
couldn't stand much, so she didn't have to. 

The noise had died down but it still, to Myra's sensitive 
perceptions, seemed to leave a bruise on the air. She 
walked through the quiet house. Someone was running 
up from the sheds. It was Jim. She saw with horror 
that his arms and hands were wet with blood. She went 

towards him. " Jim, dear " He didn't seem to see 

her, almost pushed her aside. " Thea," he called. " Thea." 
Thea came quickly out of her room carr3dng a bottle and 
a roll of linen. " I heard," she said, " I was just coming." 

"It's Laddie. The shearers' dogs got him, the whole 
pack on him." 

They hurried away together. Myra could not feel even 
an echo of their consternation. She stood alone in the 
sickly quiet. She felt angry, baffled, despoiled. She 
went to her room, brought a chair to the wardrobe and, 
climbing upon it, began to pull and drag at her trunk. 

Jim knelt beside her holding her head on his knees. 
Thea was pouring a teaspoonful of brandy, from the 
bottle she had carried down to the sheds, between Myra's 
blue lips. With difficulty she raised her heavy lids and 
looked at Jim. He was almost distracted with anxiety, 
but now it was all for her. She tried to speak, he bent 
close to hear. " Laddie ?" she asked. 

" Hush, darling, don't try to talk." But the question 
in her eyes was insistent. " We couldn't do anything 
for poor old Laddie," he told her. 

She let her lids fall. The tears trickled down her white 
cheeks from under them. 

" Don't cry, darling," he pleaded in an agonised voice, 
" Laddie was only a dog." 



THE PERSIMMON TREE 21 



THE PERSIMMON TREE 

I saw the spring come once and I won't forget it. Only 
once. I had been ill all the winter and I was recovering. 
There was no more pain, no more treatments or visits 
to the doctor. The face that looked back at me from my 
old silver mirror was the face of a woman who had 
escaped. I had only to build up my strength. For that 
I wanted to be alone, an old and natural impulse. I had 
been out of things for quite a long time and the effort of 
returning was still too great. My mind was transparent 
and as tender as new skin. Everything that happened, 
even the commonest things, seemed to be happening for 
the first time, and had a delicate hollow ring like music 
played in an empty auditorium. 

I took a flat in a quiet, blind street, lined with English 
trees. It was one large room, high ceilinged with pale 
walls, chaste as a cell in a honey comb, and furnished 
with the passionless, standardised grace of a fashionable 
interior decorator. It had the afternoon sun which I 
prefer because I like my mornings shadowy and cool, the 
relaxed end of the night prolonged as far as possible. 
When I arrived the trees were bare and still against the 
lilac dusk. There was a block of flats opposite, discreet, 
well tended, with a wide entrance. At night it lifted its 
oblongs of rose and golden light far up into the sky. One 
of its windows was immediately opposite mine. I noticed 
that it was always shut against the air. The street was 
wide but because it was so quiet the window seemed 
near. I was glad to see it always shut because I spend a 
good deal of time at my window and it was the only one 
that might have overlooked me and flawed my privacy. 



22 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

I liked the room from the first. It was a shell that 
fitted without touching me. The afternoon sun threw 
the shadow of a tree on my light wall and it was in the 
shadow that I first noticed that the bare twigs were 
beginning to swell with buds. A water colour, pretty 
and innocuous, hung on that wall. One day I asked the 
silent woman who serviced me to take it down. After 
that the shadow of the tree had the wall to itself and 
I felt cleared and tranquil as if I had expelled the last 
fragment of grit from my mind. 

I grew familiar with all the people in the street. They 
came and went with a surprising regularity and they all, 
somehow, seemed to be cut to a very correct pattern. 
They were part of the mise en scene, hardly real at all 
and I never felt the faintest desire to become acquainted 
with any of them. There was one woman I noticed, 
about my own age. She lived over the way. She had 
been beautiful I thought, and was still handsome with a 
fine tall figure. She always wore dark clothes, tailor made, 
and there was reserve in her every movement. Coming 
and going she was always alone, but you felt that that 
was by her own choice, that ever5^hing she did was by her 
own steady choice. She walked up the steps so firmly, 
and vanished so resolutely into the discreet muteness of 
the building opposite, that I felt a faint, a very faint, 
envy of anyone who appeared to have her Hfe so per- 
fectly under control. 

There was a day much warmer than anything we had 
had, a still, warm, milky day. I saw as soon as I got up 
that the window opposite was open a few inches, 'Spring 
comes even to the careful heart,' I thought. And the 
next morning not only was the window open but there 
was a row of persimmons set out carefully and precisely 
on the sill, to ripen in the sun. Shaped like a young. 



THE PERSIMMON TREE 23 

woman's breasts their deep, rich, golden-orange colour, 
seemed just the highlight that the morning's spring tran- 
quillity needed. It was almost a shock to me to see them 
there. I remembered at home when I was a child there 
was a grove of persimmon trees down one side of the house. 
In the autumn they had blazed deep red, taking your 
breath away. They cast a rosy light into rooms on that 
side of the house as if a fire were burning outside. Then 
the leaves fell and left the pointed dark gold fruit clinging 
to the bare branches. They never lost their strangeness' — 
magical, Hesperidean trees. When I saw the Fire Bird 
danced my heart moved painfully because I remembered 
the persimmon trees in the early morning against the dark 
windbreak of the loquats. Why did I always think of 
autumn in springtime ? 

Persimmons belong to autumn and this was spring. I 
went to the window to look again. Yes, they were there, 
they were real. I had not imagined them, autumn fruit 
warming to a ripe transparency in the spring sunshine. 
They must have come, expensively packed in sawdust, 
from California or have lain all winter in storage. Fruit 
out of season. 

It was later in the day when the sun had left the sill 
that I saw the window opened and a hand come out to 
gather the persimmons. I saw a woman's figure against 
the curtains. She lived there. It was her window opposite 
mine. 

Often, now the window was open. That in itself was 
like the breaking of a bUd. A bowl of thick cream pottery, 
shaped like a boat, appeared on the sill. It was planted, 
I think, with bulbs. She used to water it with one of 
those tiny, long-spouted, hand-painted cans that you 
use for refilling vases, and I saw her gingerly loosening 



24 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

the earth with a silver table fork. She didn't look up 
or across the street. Not once. 

Sometimes on my leisurely walks I passed her in the 
street. I knew her quite well now, the texture of her skin, 
her hands, the set of her clothes, her movements. The 
way you know people when you are sure you will never be 
put to the test of speaking to them. I could have found 
out her name quite easily. I had only to walk into the 
vestibule of her block and read it in the list of tenants, 
or consult the visiting card on her door. I never did. 

She was a lonely woman and so was I. That was a 
barrier, not a link. Lonely women have something to 
guard. I was not exactly lonely. I had stood my Ufe on 
a shelf, that was all. I could have had a dozen friends 
round me all day long. But there wasn't a friend that I 
loved and trusted above all the others, no lover, secret 
or declared. She had, I suppose, some nutrient hinter- 
land on which she drew. 

The bulbs in her bowl were shooting. I could see the 
pale new-green spears standing out of the dark loam. I 
was quite interested in them, wondered what they would 
be. I expected tulips, I don't know why. Her window 
was open all day long now, very fine thin curtains hung 
in front of it and these were never parted. Sometimes 
they moved but it was only in the breeze. 

The trees in the street showed green now. thick with 
budded leaves. The shadow pattern on my wall was in- 
tricate and rich. It was no longer an austere winter 
pattern as it had been at first. Even the movement of 
the branches in the wind seemed different. I used to lie 
looking at the shadow when I rested in the afternoon. 
I was always tired then and so more permeable to im- 
pressions. I'd think about the buds, how pale and tender 



THE PERSIMMON TREE 25 

they were, but how implacable. The way an unborn child 
is implacable. If man's world were in ashes the spring 
would still come. I watched the moving pattern and 
my heart stirred with it in frail, half-sweet melancholy. 

One afternoon I looked out instead of in. It was growing 
late and the sun would soon be gone, but it was warm. 
There was gold dust in the air, the sunlight had thickened. 
The shadows of trees and buildings fell, as they some- 
times do on a fortunate day, with dramatic grace. She was 
standing there just behind the curtains, in a long dark 
wrap, as if she had come from her bath and was going 
to dress, early, for the evening. She stood so long and so 
still, staring out, — at the budding trees, I thought — that 
tension began to accumulate in my mind. My blood 
ticked like a clock. Very slowly she raised her arms and 
the gown fell from her. She stood there naked, behind 
the veil of the curtains, the scarcely distinguishable but 
unmistakeable form of a woman whose face was in 
shadow. 

I turned away. The shadow of the burgeoning bough 
was on the white wall. I thought my heart would break. 



26 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



BEAUTY IS STRENGTH 

She was a quarter of an hour late. She said haught- 
ily, " I have an appointment. Mrs. Cedric Berrington." 
The girl's smile was as mechanical as the waves in her 
silver gilt hair. " Come this way, please. Madam." 

The usual cubicle, cream matchboard walls, the basin 
with its barrage of taps and sprays, the big mirror, the 
sterilizing cabinet, not functioning, the chair, the pene- 
tential stool, the shelf with its powder streaked runner, 
bowl of clips, mat of invisible hairpins, row of friction 
perfumes, tattered copy of " Vogue." Over it a pall of 
soapy, steamy scent and the drone of a drier making 
the perpetual heavy summer afternoon of a hair- 
dressing salon. Ida Barrington wondered how many 
permanent waves she had had. She felt that she had 
been in places like this far too often. A woman's age 
could be reckoned in perms. When you once began you 
couldn't stop. 

She took off her hat and unscrewed her earrings. She 
needed this one. The wave was right out. The locks lay 
dank against her head. A sleepless night always took the 
life out of her hair. It was part of the weariness of being 
over forty that you daren't have any emotions, they 
took it out of your looks too much. A month at the 
beach hadn't done her hair any good either. It hadn't 
been a good holiday, too rackety, everyone being bright 
all the time. If the others kept it up you couldn't drop 
out. She would rather, after all, have stayed at home 
with Ced. When he had urged her to go she'd taken it 
for granted that he was being generous as he always 



BEAUTY IS STRENGTH 27 

was. What a fool she'd been. It put you at a disadvan- 
tage when your hair went phut. 

Madamoiselle Paulette came in. She was petite, 
gamine, thirtyish, and had used her natural ugliness to 
the best possible advantage. They summed one another 
up instantly. Ida thought, " Not French, not Paulette, 
certainly not madamoiselle." Madamoiselle thought suc- 
cinctly, " Wooden doll with the lacquer beginning to 
peel." These reflections in no way affected their inter- 
course. Women like this respect one another's bluff. 

Madamoiselle prattled. She praised everything, espec- 
ially her own services. " Yes^ yes, of course, it needs it, 
but I can see just how it should be done. A big wave 
here, here, at the back tailored, and here a single row of 
sculptured curls. You see how it will be, so chic ? So 
sophisticated, no ? Madam is fortunate. The more 
fashionable the style the better it suits her. Madam has 
such a beautiful head, so small, so elegant. Madam will 
be entranced with what I do for her." It was the re- 
assurance you bought in fashionable shops. Like a drug 
it began to take effect on Ida's sagging nerves. " Madam 
was recommended to come to me by a friend, is it not ?" 

Ida said slowly, " Mrs. Bertie Chadwick is one of your 
customers." 

" Ah yes, the so charming Mrs. Chadwick, so pretty, 
so sw-eet," Madamoiselle met eyes like swords in the 
mirror. She sighed. " If only Madam would use her 
influence. It is no pleasure at all to dress Mrs. Chadwick's 
hair. Those braids round the head. I ask you. They 
date. Really I am ashamed. It is so hausfrau." And she 
twisted her httle pug face into a grimace that effectu- 
ally drove out the golden image of Viola Chadwick. 

" Alors " — Madamoiselle was gone and a silent girl in 
white instantly replaced her. Ida was led to the basin, 



28 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

shampooed, sprayed, dipped by strong mechanical 
hands, and returned dripping, swathed in a mackintosh 
cape and towels, to the chair in front of the mirror. Her 
hair black and spiky with water looked a depressing, 
meagre wisp. Her complexion had suffered radically 
from the steam. "What a hag," she thought. "Oh, what 
a hag." 

The girl adjusted the drier like a high Egyptian helmet, 
laid the copy of " Vogue " in her lap, and departed 
briskly. Her hair stirred in the hot blast, the noise 
droned in her ears. The headache which she had beaten 
back with aspirin began again. There was a patch of 
wimpering nerves in her right temple the size of a penny 
and slowly spreading. But the worst thing was looking 
in the mirror. Her face suspended between the helmet 
and the mackintosh cape was just face, without aids or 
garnishings. It was from moments like these, when you 
saw your face isolated, that you learned the truth about 
it. Her mouth looked hard and disappointed, and round 
each corner there was clearly discernable, in this impartial 
light, a little bracket of wrinkle. You can't, she had 
read somewhere, do anything about wrinkles once they 
are visible to the naked eye. Her cheek bones looked 
high and stiff and on her throat, where age first shows 
itself, the working of the muscles showed too clearly, and 
the skin just under the chin was ever so slightly puckered. 

The evidence in the mirror was germane to the weight 
on her mind. It was thus that she had always envisaged 
defeat, other women's, not her own. Cut off momen- 
tarily from everything except the mirror and the whirr 
of the drier, her mind was forced back again into last 
night's ditch. But now the pace was heavier. She was 
sure, with a leaden certainty, about Ced and Viola. 



BEAUTY IS STRENGTH 29 

The shreds of evidence were working like splinters in 
her brain. There was the letter addressed to Ced lying 
on the table with the other mail when she came in yester- 
day afternoon. She recognised Viola's handwriting at 
once, large, eager, rather unformed. It didn't surprise 
her much, for Viola was in constant need of expression. 
She was for ever telephoning her friends about some new 
enthusiasm, writing little notes, cop}dng sentiments that 
pleased her, out of the novels she read into arty leather 
note books. But this wasn't a little note. It was bulky ; 
even in Viola's sprawling script, a long letter. She had 
weighed it speculatively and put it by with an open mind. 
She wasn't, she often told people — particularly Ced — a 
jealous wife, nor would she be but for the possessive 
streak as strong in her. as instinct in an animal. 

She had gone through the house, the housemaid silent 
and insolently correct at her heels. In every room she 
stopped to alter something. It wasn't that the rooms had 
fallen away from the immaculate perfection that she 
demanded. It was there shining and clear, but every- 
thing was nevertheless different. She knew that at once. 
It was the only kind of sensitiveness she had. In a month 
the house had slipped away from her dominance whilst 
maintaining the form of her taste. No one else's taste 
had been substituted, it had merely been lived in by 
people who thought differently and felt differently from 
herself, and their indifferent hands had communicated 
this to every object of decoration or use that stood in it. 
This kijowledge drew a web over her spirit. She would 
take the house back but, returning from that unsatis- 
factory holiday with her hair out of curl and her skin 
tarnished by the strong salt air, she had reahsed for the 
first time the burden these constant adjustments to the 
status quo could be. The thought, like a drop of water. 



30 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

had condensed in her mind, "From now on it will get 
harder and harder just to keep things as they are." 

That hadn't anything to do with the letter. In fact, 
she had forgotten it until she found something else. But 
that wasn't anything in itself either. The laundry had 
come back and his clean clothes were lying on Ced's bed, 
not yet put away. Three dress shirts. And he'd said he'd 
been nowhere. He wasn't the sort of man to dress for 
his own edification. He always grumbled at getting into 
a boiled shirt but he looked his best in evening dress. 
How often the sight of his solid conventional grace had 
pleased her with its final tightness. To see those three 
new-laundered shirts was like picking up a bird's feather 
bright with the tell-tale mating colours. Had Betty 
seen it that way too, and was there a quickly, but not 
too quickly, concealed glint in her eye ? 

At dinner she had asked Ced, as naturally she might : 
" What had Viola to say ?" 

There had been an almost imperceptible pause. " Just 
a note to say that Bertie had to go to Melbourne and 
wouldn't be along for golf on Saturday and to ask when 
you'd be back." 

" Why didn't she phone ?" 

" How do I know ?" There was a trace of irritation 
under the casual words. 

Ced was outwardly the same as ever but she was in- 
creasingly aware of a subtle change in him, Uke the one 
that she had felt in the house. The evening hung heavily 
between them, and when she went to her room there had 
been none of the rather apologetic overtures — more apolo- 
getic, less passionate with the years — she had expected. 
" I expect you're tired, my dear," he had said. " I'll say 
good-night." 



BEAUTY IS STRENGTH 31 

Lying in bed, suspicion began to tick louder and louder 
in her brain. Her nerves at the moment were fertile soil 
for doubt. She couldn't relax, her eyes seemed to be held 
open by springs. Across the landing she heard Ced 
undressing and pottering about his room in a leisurely 
fashion. Presently he went into the bathroom, and she 
heard the water flowing. She hardly told herself what 
she was going to do as she crossed to his room. She 
hunted for the letter swiftly, thoroughly, silently. She 
even went through his suit encountering in all their 
innocency the personal oddments that fill a man's 
pockets. The letter was not there ; it was not in the room 
unless it was hidden in some fantastic place. She ran 
downstairs in her bare, feet and hunted again in all the 
likely places without success. When she returned to her 
room the water was running out of the bath. She crept 
into bed humiliated by the blatant vulgarity of what she 
she had done. He had destroyed the letter or hidden it 
securely or — and. fantastically this hurt her most — taken 
it into the bathroom with him. 

Other thoughts began to assemble. Why exactly had 
Ced stayed behind when she went to the beach ? All she 
could remember was something vague about business. 
Why, for that matter, had they been seeing so much of 
the Chadwick's for the last year ? Bertie was dumb and 
played a shocking game, and she had never really liked 
Viola — she was too. ...too easy.. .so sweet, so indolent for 
all her eagerness, so romantic, so untidy in her mind, so 
quick to enthuse and forget.... She hadn't asked herself 
before Mv^y they went about with the Chadwick's. It 
must have been of somebody's volition, not hers. People 
weren't so important, just coloured counters in the game. 
It was the game that mattered, the complex game of 
fashionable living, that had to be played just right. 



32 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Viola and Bertie did the same things, knew the same 
people as they did, they fitted into the pattern and one 
had to have friends, so why not Viola and Bertie ? It 
hadn't been more important than that till now. 

Had this been going on for months ? Did e^'eryone 
know ? What an unutterable fool she must look. 

A girl came in, switched off the drier and swung it 
back. She pressed the palm of her hand to Ida's head. 
" You're done," she said brightly. " MadamoiseUe will 
be along to wind you." 

Ida's hair stood out in a bush, brittle and cantankerous. 
MadamoiseUe Paulette divided it and wound it strand by 
strand on the curlers, tight against the head, and forced 
under each, a circle of insulating felt. She prattled as 
she worked and her small lively eyes were bright with 
what may have been the accumulated triumph of seeing 
other women perpetually at a disadvantage. 

Ida's head grew heavy with metal, the curlers strained 
painfully at the tender skin of her temples, lolling over 
her forehead and beating, if she moved, against her ears. 
She found MadamoiseUe Paulette and her chatter intoler- 
able. Why on earth had she come here ? She never went 
to one hairdresser for long, for she was perpetuaUy dis- 
satisfied, and at present she hadn't one. This morning 
when she had reaUsed that the first thing she must do 
to clear the decks for whatever action she was going to 
take, was to have her hair waved, her mind had turned 
to this place that Viola had recommended so eagerly. At 
bottom it was a morbid impulse that had brought her 
here. " A hair of the dog," she thought sardonically. 
She was sorry. It was a vile place. She loathed it. 

" You are winding them too tightiy," she said irritably, 
,' it's hurting me much more than usual." 



BEAUTY IS STRENGTH 33 

" You must suffer to be beautiful," replied Madamois- 
elle gaily and began to apply the soaked sachets. 

Ida shut her eyes. Now Madamoiselle was connecting 
the curlers to the machine above her head. This was the 
worst part, the weight, the pulling, the heat, the suffo- 
cating smell of the sachets. Her thoughts kept pushing 
their way through the thicket of her discomfort. 

What was she going to do ? And what would Ced do ? 
No man was ever safe from making a fool of himself. 
She could have taken a sophisticated view of the whole 
thing if he'd picked up a little dancer, but this was differ- 
ent, a woman in their own circle, one of her friends. She 
tried to move her head and was jerked into acute con- 
sciousness of her situation. 

" Please, Madam, please," insisted Madamoiselle. 

" It's burning." 

" No, no." 

" Yes, there." She wanted to scream. 

Madamoiselle released two curls and fitted two more. 
" I'll sue her if she burns my hair," Ida thought. 

She stared at her grotesque image. There was a bright 
red spot on either cheek. Her spirits plunged even lower. 
She thought of Ced, her mind groping towards him, for 
the first time in years, thought what he had given her. 
She'd never imagined that he would let her down. When 
they were first married she remembered that he had had 
all sorts of romantic ideas but she believed that she had 
cured them. They hadn't ever quarrelled, not ever. 
Sometimes he irritated her when she felt that he was 
begging her for something she didn't know how to give, 
didn't possess. But she always bit her annoj'ance down. 

She didn't for a minute believe that Ced had started 
this. But that didn't help. What she was going to do ? 
What if it were serious and he wanted her to divorce 



34 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

him ? Her mind widened in horror. That would take 
everything from her. her home, her biuii^round. her 
position. A woman could only divorce successfully if 
there was another man waiting for her. She would have 
to make a new life. She was too tired. TOO OLD. 

Like a little spark the idea began. She might forgive 
him — ^the hagrdest way. without saying so. Just take no 
notice. If she said nothing, did nothing, they couldn't 
dislodge her, could they ? If anyone knew that she knew. 
she would have to make a fuss and when she had made a 
fuss Ced "would be driven to some sort of action. If she 
did nothing and let the thing wear itself out. then she 
could keep everjrtihing or nearly everything. She had 
reached her bedrock. Her dark circled eyes looked back 
at her and she saw defeat in them. 

The red eye of the waving machine glared down. 

" We'll soon be finished," sang Madamoiselle. 

Now the machine was switched off and the curls undone 
one by one, relieving the pressure. Her head was covered 
with small oily corkscrew curls. 

" Divine." crooned Madamoiselle. 

Competent hands shampooed her again and she felt 
as if the energetic fingers must break through her tired 
thin skull as if it were matchboard. Whilst she waited 
for Madamoiselle to set her, a girl brought her a cup of 
tea. They were tender with her after the ordeal. She 
drank it gratefully and fdt a little better. The sight of 
Madamoiselle's deft fingars setting the waves reassure^ 
her too. She did know her job and the wave wasn't 
going to be a failure as she had feared. Already with the 
hair fitted in a wet casque to her head she looked more 
like herself. Half an hour in the drier and she wouli^ 
be finished. 



BEAUTY IS STRENGTH 35 

Yes, but what was she going to do. It had seemed 
settled a moment ago and she had determined to sacrifice 
herself. Now she was undecided again. If Bertie wasn't 
such a simp she could go to him and let him tackle the 
situation. The idea attracted her but she dismissed it. 
Bertie would just make a mess of it. How could Ced be 
so foolish ? She was pleased to find that she felt angry 
again — ^more angry and less defeated. 

Viola wouldn't want a divorce, there were her children. 
Ced wouldn't want one either. Scandal would get him 
coming and going. They were, she supposed, just banking 
on her being a fool, and they didn't even trouble to take 
proper precautions against her finding out. That idea 
smouldered. The situation took on hard, new lines. 

They released her from the drier. To the touch the 
hair seemed solid and caked, clogged as it was with 
fixative, but when Madamoiselle had combed and patted 
it, rewound the curls about her finger and burnished it 
witli brilliantine, it looked soft and alive. 

" Charming, " cooed Madamoiselle passing her the hand 
mirror. For a moment Ida forgot her troubles. It was a 
beautiful wave, her head had ne\er looked better. There 
wasn't a grey hair. 

As soon as she was unswathed from the gingham cape, 
she began to maJce up her face, rediscovering all its lost 
virtues. She did it slowly, waving away the apprentice 
who obviously \\aiited to sweep up the fitter on the floor. 
With deUcate, skilled fingers she rubbed cream into her 
dried skin. She'd be a fool if she worried herself into 
wrinkles. The trouble would pass but the wrinkles would 
stay. She pencilled her brows and her whole face came 
into clearer definition. As she rouged her hps, she smiled. 
She wasn't so bad after all. There was plenty of fight in 



36 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

her still — and Ced wasn't going to get away with it. She, 
not he, Wcis in the strong position. If he wanted to be a 
fool he'd have to pay for it. She'd punish him and then — 
she bent forward and looked into her own eyes, bright 
once more under the influence of eye shadow and mascara 
— and then she would win him back again. While she 
had her looks she could do anything. She had been 
through an ordeal but now she felt secure again. She 
wasn't even very angry. She had put on again the whole 
armour of sophistication. If anyone was going to look 
fooUsh it wa^ Ced and Viola — especially Viola ! 



CANARIES SOMETIMES ADVERTISE 37 



CANARIES SOMETIMES ADVERTISE 

Spring was in the air. 

The Managing Director, who prided himself on atten- 
ding personally to every detail of the great store's organ- 
ization, sent for the restaurant manager. 

" I suppose," he said in a grudging voice, " that we'll 
have to redecorate the restaurant. Our public expects 
it." 

The manager looked modestly down and murmered 
that we always did at this time of the year, didn't we ? 

" Well," said the Director, " you'd Ijetter go ahead. 
Something original, something striking, something — er — ■" 

"Smart?" suggested the manager. 

The Director frowned. " Not smart. It isn't going to 
be smart to be smart this season. No, no, something 
charming, a soup^on of sentiment," and he made a butter- 
fly gesture, exotic in so stout a man, " perhaps rather 
amusing in an innocent way, but go easy on the sex 
appeal. You might even make it painlessly informative. 
Something that will please the ladies and advertise well. 
Take a turn round the show rooms and look at the new 
spring millinery." 

The manager's dubious expression didn't come out of an 
American business manual, and it irritated the Director. 
" Jump to it, man, jump to it," and he added brusquely, 
" I've given you bushels of ideas. Keep the costs down 
and don't .bother me any further." 

The interview was over and the manager withdrew,' 
his features composed as nearly as possible into the- 
expression of a creative artist in the throes. 

The great store kept faith with its public, punctually 
a week after the interview the restuarant was trans- 



38 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

formed, practically overnight, from a Tudor Farm Kitchen 
into a Woodland Bower, and all well-to-do citizens were 
invited to eat Under the Greenwood Tree. Every column 
became a tree with spreading three-ply foUage and giant 
magnoha blooms; quaint animals from the toy depart- 
ment clung to the trunks and peered from the branches ; 
from every tree hung a bright brass cage containing a 
very yellow hve canary ; the pay desks were transformed 
into dove cotes ; facsimile autumn leaves lay on the pale 
green cloths artlessly advertising bargains in the shoe 
department ; on each menu was the picture of a feathered 
songster with a short description of his habits written 
by an ornithologist. The waitresses wore dimdals of 
primrose yellow and green. It was everything the direc- 
torate could ask^^harming, romantic, amusing, infor- 
mative, and novel. 

The restaurant began to fill in earnest at twelve o'clock. 
The ground swell of noise that takes possession of any 
large restaurant at the peak hours had begun to gather — 
footsteps, the scraping of chairs on parquet floors, many 
conversations running together into one long mimnur, the 
fainter, clearer converse of china, glass and silver. On it like 
flotsam floated the occasional cough or laugh, or, more 
rarely, a child's crying. The tables were filling, vari- 
coloured parterres under the trees. The waitresses were 
unconsciously working faster and faster, keying up to 
the daily rush, the nerve racking business of speed with- 
out hurry or disturbance. There was continual kaleido- 
scopic movement. Clearing the murmurous noise by two 
or three feet, the bird cages trembled a httle in the warm, 
gently moving air, and their occupants hopped restlessly 
from perch to perch. Occasionally, one twittered or 
essayed a few bars of song. Above them were the preter- 
naturally stUl foliage, and the chandehers glowing like 



CANARIES SOMETIMES ADVERTISE 39 

mutiple siins. E\'er\-thing was strange to them except 
the bars of their cages. 

One of the birds, the plumpest, yellowest, most lively 
of all the little cocks, had already had a couple of adven- 
tures. He had flipped a sunflower seed into an importcint 
cup of coffee, \\ith the result that the owner had com- 
plained to the management, and he had so taken the 
fancy of an old lady, used to behaving naturally under 
all circumstances, that she had insisted on her grand- 
daughter mounting a chair to feed him. He had not 
taken any notice of the tomato sandwich that the em- 
barrassed girl pushed through his bars, but he seemed 
verj' ahve to ever\"thing else about him. He hopped 
from the perch to the floor of his cage, put his head on 
one side, looked one way then the other, and hopped 
back on to the perch. You would swear that he missed 
nothing that went on at the four tables within his 
immediate \ision. His interest was pert and gay. 

Three of the tables were occupied, the fourth was 
reserved for the Managing Director who intended this 
day to take pot luck with the pubhc, a tribute to the 
occasion. A waitress stood guard over it. "I'm sorry, 
madam, this table is reserved." The raw seam of the new 
uniform chafed the back of her neck, its colour tinted her 
rosy skin with an unbecoming mauve. " There are two 
good seats at the next table, sir. This table is reserved." 
She hoped that no one was going to be disagreable about 
the table ; people often were, and the customer was 
always right. So were the manager and the assistant 
manageress and the superintendents. That left no one 
to be in the wTong except the girls. And now they had 
been dressed to match the canaries. What next ? It 
could have been worse. They might have gone aU Poljnie- 
sian and put them into grass skirts. An5rway, the canaries 



40 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

were a change. She'd rather look at them than at people 
stuffing themselves. Poor Uttle blighters, shut up in 
cages. I'll say they're quaint. Hopping round as fresh 
as paint taking everything in. But they'll get sick of it. 
What was that song — " She married the old man for his 
mone}' and now she's a bird in a gilded cage "? Could 
do with a cage like that. It would be the great open 
spaces compared to earning your Uving as a waitress. 
Hope the O S's aren't going to make a set at this table. 
They're just the sort to remember the advt. " Free for 
all, no reservations." 

The two large ladies and the thin httle girl with the 
plaits moved in at the next table. They had large figures 
under iron control, large, thickly powdered faces, large 
jewellery, large handbags. They were alike because they 
thought about the same things and in the same way. 
But one had a stronger will which enabled her to do 
most of the talking. 

" No, I haven't seen Mrs. Merton-Small for months. 
They lost their money. I told you, didn't I ? Yes, her 
husband never said a word. The first thing she knew a 
man came and cut off the telephone. She was as good as 
out of things then. I said, just as you might say, or any 
one else, 'Don't worry about the telephone, Mrs. Merton- 
SmaU, I've got one and you're welcome to come and use 
it just whenever you want to.' And. my dear, she did. 
She was always coming, even when Oscar was at home 
or when we were at dinner. Always in and out to that 
telephone, not to see us mind you, just to make a con- 
venience of us." She deflected the stream for a moment. 
" Do you see the canaries, Margaret ? Aren't they 
sweet ?" 

" Yes, Auntie." 

" I thought you'd like it here. It's fim, isn't it ?" 



CANARIES SOMETIMES ADVERTISE 41 

" Yes, Auntie." 

" There's nothing like it at home, is there ?" 

" No, Auntie." 

The little girl wished Auntie hadn't mentioned home. 
Once when she had been tiny she had been lost for hcdf 
axL hour in an amusement park, and though the details 
had long ago passed into a confused and hazy nightmare, 
the terror and strangeness of it was still lying just under 
the surface of her mind. It was much worse to be lost in 
an amusement park than anywhere else. It wasn't real, 
and because it wasn't real, anything at all might happen. 
She was always getting glimpses of it in tiny, terrifying 
peeps. This place was like it. And she felt lost all the time 
since. . . ' That's a canary, it's a sweet bird,' she 
said to herself. " I wish I had a canary." 

" She had the most aggravating way of ringing up, if 
you know what I mean. Some people can make the 
simplest things aggravating, can't they ? She'd always 
begin by apologising for bothering us and I'd think 'If 
you know it's a nuisance, why do you do it ?' She'd 
never say who she wanted to telephone or anything like 
that, and she'd mutter into the telephone as if she thought 
we were spies. Oscar used to make a noise on purpose. 
He said I was too good natured. Perhaps I am. Anyhow, 
it dawned on Mrs. Metron-Small at last and she asked 
me did Oscar mind. What could I say ? I could only 
leave it to her good feeling. She got very red and said 
'I always leave the twopence.' I really was angry then, 
Ella. Apparently she thought that because she paid 
twopence it wasn't a favour. She could just march in 
and out as if it were a telephone booth. Perhaps I 
shouldn't have said what I did. She didn't come again 
and now they have moved away. Eat your luncheon. 



42 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Margaret. What is the matter with you ? You are not 
going to cry, are you ?" 

" No, Auntie." Though her mouth was still and her 
eyes dry, her face had the knobby and transparent look 
that goes before tears, and her aunt recognised it. 

" Now, Margaret, be sensible. I came here solely for 
yoTlr sake, to give you a treat. Don't brood, look about 
you and enjoy yourself like a good girl." 

The child gulped. A lump seemed to be forcing its 
way not through her throat but through her mind. The 
lump was always there, it didn't get smaller. If only she 
could cry it away. She pushed some food into her mouth. 

" No, I'm not hard on her, Ella. It's terrible for a 
child to lose her mother, I know. But it's a month since 
it happened, and Margaret must puU herself together. 
She's not a baby, she's ten. It's no kindness to be soft 
with her. Fretting seems to have become a positive habit 
with her now. I really can't understand it, because Mary 

was just the gayest creature and you'd think her child 

Eat it up Margaret, there's a good child. Oscar said to 
me 'If people can't keep up it's just too bad, but you 
can't do anything about it. If they got ahead they 
wouldn't wait for you.' " 

(The cutlet was made of wood. Auntie was made of 
wood like Mrs. Noah. She popped out at you. She wasn't 
real. Quick, quick, think of canaries.) 

On the first Monday of every month they always had 
lunch together, the old man, very rich, stone deaf, his 
daughter, her husband and their little boy. In years the 
son-in-law hadn't got over the idea that he ought, by 
hook or by crook, to make conversation. The daughter 
knew that it wasn't necessary. She smiled and patted 
her father's arm. If the food was good she knew that he 



CANARIES SOMETIMES ADVERTISE 43 

would be quite happy and satisfied just seeing them there. 
These occasions did not ruffle the junket smoothness of 
her mind. The little boy really enjoyed them. He liked 
seeing his grandfather eat. He recognised a maestro in 
the old gourmet, and although he was not a greedy child, 
he felt a deep satisfaction in this form of realism. 

" How do you like the new decoration ?" the son-in-law 
began. 

" How do you like the new decoration ?" the son-in-law 
began. 

"Eh?" 

" Decoration. How do you like it ?" 

"What's that?" 

" Birds." 

"Eh?" 

" Birds." 

" Oh, yes. Good suggestion. Spring chicken stuffed 
with truffles. Do you, young-fellow-me-lad ?" 

The little boy nodded vigorously. 

' ' Canaries, ' ' said the son-in-law in a semi-shout, pointing. 

" Those. We'll have to pay for them but the food 
won't taste any better. Romans used to eat nightingales." 

The child laughed out loud and his- grandfather drew 
down his eyebrows in a mock scowl. The boy wriggled, 
laughing. The mother smiled. The taut and nervous 
son-in-law was the odd man out. 

' ' Order something for me. Anything you think I' d like. " 
He chpose the most expensive, the most exotic dish on 

the menu. 

" Darling, I couldn't possibly eat that. You know I 

never eat things like that." She ordered for herself, 

competently, a pineapple salad. " You see you don't 

understand me at all." 



44 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

He cursed himself for a clumsly brute. She smiled at 
him faintly, sadly, under the shadow of her black hat, 
big dark eyes in an exquisite pale face. 

" Why did we come to this terrible, noisy place ?" 

" You wanted to yesterday. You thought it would be 
amusing." 

" I only said that because I was afraid of you. I knew if 
we went to a quiet place you'd start pestering me to be 
engaged." She drew off her long black gloves — she knew 
how to do it excitingly — and let her long, lanquid hands 
lie on the tablecloth. 

" It's rather nice now we're here. Don't you think the 
canaries are jolly ? Look at that one !" 

She shivered. " I don't like things in cages. All my 
life I've been afraid of the cage." 

" Rosalie darling, is that why you won't be engaged ?" 

" Yes, perhaps it is. Partly." 

" But it's silly, sweetheart. If you're willing to marry 
me as soon as ever I can make you a home ,why won't 
you be engaged ?" 

" I won't have a reserved notice stuck on me. It may 
be years before we can get married." 

" I'd feel so much safer if you'd only wear a ring." 

" I'd go mad feeling safe. I just couldn't bear it. I'm 
willing to trust you without any rings, or announcements, 
or anything." 

" But, Rosalie sweet. . . ." 

A middle aged lady and gentleman took the two vacant 
seats at the table. You could see at a glance that they 
were both fussy and devoted. The lovers exchanged 
eloquent looks, and fell silent. They had been enjo5dng 
themselves immensely. 

The newcomers put their heads together over the menu. 

" I really would like that," said the lady wistfully, her 



CANARIES SOMETIMES ADVERTISE 45 

finger hovering among the delectable viands, " but it 
isn't in our diet, is it ?" 

" No, my dear, but I think we might." 

" Wouldn't it be rash ?" 

" To-day is our anniversary." 

" If you will, I will." 
They smiled and sighed. 

" What did I tell you ?" said Rosalie, looking wicked. 
" I don't think, Don, that after all, I'll marry you at all." 

It was five minutes to one, and the Managing Director 
had arrived with an important business friend, a mild, 
frail old gentleman, so shrewd that you never suspected 
it till several months after it was too late to do anything 
about it. The plump canary had an instant succes with 
him. He was, as he diffidently confessed, a bird fancier 
in his scanty leisure. The canary chirped, hopping like a 
grace note from perch to perch. 

"Sweet, sweet," said the old man. They might have been 
birds of a feather, the canary the more worldly of the two. 

The orchestra had taken its place on the dais. The 
burr of mingled and aglutinative sound in the great 
restaurant had reached its height, a swell of sound with 
a flying spume of light clatter. Into it the music, loud 
and compact, was launched like a ship. To the plump 
canary it sounded a challenge. He lifted his head, his 
throat swelled and he began to sing. The birds near him 
were caught up in it, and presently all through the room 
canaries were singing. They sang with all their might, 
their hearts swelled to bursting, against the orchestra. 
The volume mounted and mounted, eighty canaries 
singing in a passion of competition. 

All the human particles beneath the singing canopy 
were swept together. The waitresses hurrying with their 
loaded trays stood still, diners in the act of arriving or 



46 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

departing were immobilised as if the air had hardened 
about them. Every head was raised. An elderly spinster 
who had just come out of a nerve hospital tried to start 
a revivalist meeting. The old business man closed his 
eyes and his face moulded into the still, beatific smile of 
the dead. The little girl, Margaret, suddenly pushed 
away her Neopolitan ice, and, pillowing her head on her 
arms, began to cry. The hard lump was melting and she 
could cry grief out of her breast without let or hindrance. 
The aunt took no notice. The little puce mouth in her 
big face was open and slack with amazement. Was this 
a stunt or had it just happened ? Don could feel Rosalie 
trembling from head to foot with a fiine inner vibration. 
Slowly she turned her face towards him. The old married 
couple whose blood stream was purified by diet, held 
hands unashamedly. The deaf man stopped eating and 
stared about him in wonder. He certainly heard some- 
thing, he wanted to know if it was the Communists. 

The orchestra stopped playing, then one by one the 
canaries stopped singing. People sighed as if they were 
coming to from a faint, laughed foolishly, spoke loudly, 
began to move, to eat, to hurry. The spell was broken 
but on every mind, hke the moisture from a burst bubble, 
there lingered a trace of mystery. It had lasted perhaps 
three minutes. 

The Managing Director sent for the manager of the 
restaurant. He came wiping the sweat from his forehead, 
the backs of his hands. 

" What did you pay for those canaries ?" 

" They are hired, sir." 

" Send them back at once." 

" Yes, sir." 

" Once," said the Managing Director, relaxing a little, 
" is a good advertisement, twice would be a scandal." 



THE WOMAN WHO DID THE RIGHT THING 47 



THE WOMAN WHO DID THE RIGHT 
THING 

It was strange how Barbara kept thinking that she 
saw Murray Hart. There was a man in a grey suit now 
walking with a girl on the path at the far side of the 
lawn ; she had been sure, at the first glance, that it was 
Murray. Her heart had leaped painfully and she had had 
a queer, white feeling round her mouth. It was not 
Murray, not even like him, very much younger, but 
there was something in the way he turned to the girl 
beside him, eager, taut, absorbed. ' . . . She was aware 
of it even at this distance. This was like looking in a 
mirror, Barbara told herself painfully, only in reverse. 
It was like the image of a dream cast on her waiting 
mind. She was obsessed by these pictures of a happiness 
she knew to be impossible, out of her reach. 

Barbara walked slowly, at the same pace as the two 
across the lawn. They carried their own world with 
them, she thought, they saw everything about them, if 
they looked at all, with eyes different from her's, even 
the sky and the trees were not the sky and trees that she 
saw. A raw light poured down from the cloudy sky and 
there was a malaise over the gardens. Trees and bushes 
shrank before the wind, turning up the dulled or silvery 
backs of their leaves ; the grass was already brownish 
after an early ispell of hot weather ; in empty flower beds 
the earth was dry and grey. There was no colour under 
the pale sky. Barbara reflected that it might rain, that 
she had no umbrella and that these were her best clothes. 
Her hat would never be the same again if it got wet. 
But these were small inconsequent thoughts that blew 



48 THE PERSISLMON TREE 

across her mind like the few, low, fleecy clouds o^ er the 
close packed rain clouds in the upper skv. 

It was natural that she should think of Murray to-day 
for she was on her way to an afternoon party at Dora 
Murchison's Macquarie St. flat, and it was there, nine 
months ago, that she had met Murray for the first time. 
She was walking through the Botanic Gardens to kill 
time, she didn't want to be the first to arrive. She was 
aiming at the comfortable anonymous, moment when the 
room was half fuU, everybodj' taUdng. Parties were 
always rather a plunge for her, she went to so few. But 
she was determined now to accept any Ln\-itations that 
came her way, to go on exactly as usual, just as if she 
were dying, and determined to hide it. Actually she had 
not seen Murray for a fortnight. They had said, smiling, 
that they weren't going to be childish and avoid one 
another, they'd still be friends, now and forever. Murray 
wouldn't be at Dora's this afternoon, because it was 
going to be a purely feminine partj-. But it was some- 
thing to be returning to a place where she had met him, 
for she half behe^■ed that she wovdd pick up some in- 
finitesimal trace of him there, and take ghostly comfort 
from it. 

" I am like a young girl in love," she reproached her- 
seK. " I have no right to this," she told herself bitterlj- 
" I am old enough to know better." She weis swept 
with nostalgia for youth when at least love was not 
ridiculous, when one had a right to grief, even to a broken 
heart. She told herself, driving in the statements hke 
nails ; "I am nearly forty, I am a widow, everything is 
over. Molly is my life. I have done the right thing for 
Murray. That is all that matters. 

This thought so assailed her that she stopped on the 
path and stood staring at a great cactus plant, arrogant 



THE WOMAN WHO DID THE RIGHT THING 49 

and ugly, with grey green fleshy leaves and a long raking 
florescence still in bud. She could no longer see the young 
lovers, they had turned away into a side path, but she 
did not miss theiti, her mind had entered its labyrinth. 

Of one thing Barbara was sure, she knew Murray better 
than anyone in the world knew him or ever had known 
him. Better than. his wife, Phoebe. She had met Phoebe 
Hart once, a handsome, competent woman, who looked 
as if she knew how to get her own way. She had been 
faintly, ridiculously surprised that, with that name, she 
hadn't two or three double chins. Phoebe cared nothing 
for Murray's music. To her it was a job like other jobs, 
and she reproached him because he did not make more 
money. It was she who kept him chained to teaching, 
fraying his spirit, giving up to " giggling girls, without 
a note of music in them," the time he wanted for study 
and composition. Murray was vulnerable. The least thing 
tormented him. She had seen his pain reflected in his 
difficult, tortured music that no one understood. He had 
turned to her so naturally for peace. Their's had been 
such a gentle friendship. Murray, for all his great gifts, 
was so much simpler than anyone thought ; for all his 
high strung, restless temperament, so much gentler. 

When Gordon died young, Barbara thought her life, 
except for Molly, was ended too. Five quiet, eventless, 
not unhappy years fell away, and then came Murray and 
a slow, mysterious blooming had begun in her again. 
The past was lost, there was only Murray. They drew 
nearer and nearer to love in a sort of charmed silence 
that was broken at last by Murray's eager, ardent 
pleading. Then she had had to think for them both, 
but most for Murray. She had had to look forward 
and see where this was leading them. Murray, because 
of his great gifts, his music, was the important 



50 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

one. She thought of Phoebe too, but only because of 
what she could do to Murray. They had quarrelled once, 
Murray had told her about it, not the cause, but the 
quarrel itself, in veiled, broken, phrases, how she had 
" known how to torture him," he had had to " climb 
down," been " beaten " and Phoebe had made the most 
of her advantage. Barbara had seen how the whole 
affair had lacerated him and left him imable to work 
for weeks. He had thrust this humihation on her with 
a kind of proud perversity. She saw an infinity of pain 
in the episode. Phoebe wouldn't spare him now, and his 
fine drawn spirit couldn't stand it. There couldn't be 
any secrecy. Murray was transparent. She understood 
that. It was something to be reckoned with. 

There would be a scandal, Phoebe would see to that. 
He would lose the pupils he hated but needed, he would 
be dragged down. It wasn't these external things that 
really mattered, it was the damage they would do to 
Murray. There was only one road to peace and safety 
for him, and that was through his music. She couldn't 
bring more trouble upon him, distract him further. He 
thought he would find peace with her but she knew 
better, she knew him so well. Only in cosmic things 
could his great heart find shelter. So she told him that 
they could only be friends, that they must stop growing 
fond of one another while there was still time. . . And 
he had, strangely and miraculously, beUeved the words 
that were so thin and cold in her mouth. Perhaps he 
was working now, and that was why she had not seen 
or heard from him, perhaps she had given him something 
to put into his music, something more than the fever and 
bitterness that had gone into it before. 

Suddenly it seemed to Barbara that she had been 
walking in the Gardens for a very long time. She realised 



J. 



THE WOMAN WHO DID THE RIGHT THING 51 

with something hke panic that she was already late for 
her party. She almost turned back for the persistant wind 
had chilled her inside her clothes, and her courage was 
shrunken. But she knew that it was no good indulging 
herself like that. 



Dora Murchison's long room overlooking the Gardens 
and the harbour beyond seemed crowded with women. 
It was gay and shining and the still, warm, air smelt of 
perfume, flowers and cocktails. Barbara felt like a dove 
among parrakeets. 

" Barbara darling, I began to be afraid you weren't 
coming." Dora, with her arm about Barbara's waist, led 
her among the guests. Affection wrapped her round. It 
was as if she, coming late, was the honoured guest. She 
had been to school with most of these women. They had 
gone on from the fashionable and expensive school to 
fashionable and expensive lives, and Barbara had 
dropped out, only holding, in Dora's friendship, a single 
thread of the old life. Now she made them all feel 
young again. She was so exactly as they remembered 
her. She reassured them. They loved her. 

" How young Barbara looks," they sighed. 

" That's because she leads a good life," said Dora, 
and everyone laughed. It was impossible to think of 
Barbara as being anything but good. 

Every one talked, groups formed and broke, there was 
laughter and the tinkle of glass. Dora brought Barbara 
a cocktail. " This is called Angel's Milk," she said, and 
laughed. Barbara let herself be carried, lightly and 
gently, by the party. She had stopped thinking, and 
the Angel's Milk warmed her. Again and again she had 
to tell her little story. " My husband died five years ago." 



52 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" Only Molly." " I don't go any where much." " I'd 
love to come and see you." The person of whom she 
spoke seemed quite unreal. Her attention was arrested 
by a sudden reality. 

Some one said : " Phoebe takes it too seriously. One 
shouldn't. It always happens, dosen't it ?" 

" Poor Phoebe, she has had a good deal to put up with, 
one way and another. She has been waiting twenty years 
for Murray to settle down." 

" She is beginning to show the wear and tear. He can 
stand the racket apparently, but she can't. For wear, 
give me an artistic temperament, they're toughest." 

" He is very charming." 

" But difficult," some one added. 

" That's what they like." 

" Do you remember Murray Hart ? You met him here 
before I went to England," Dora asked, drawing Bar- 
bara into the group. 

" She's only twenty and one of his pupils, brilhant, I 
beheve. They go everj-nhere together." 

" Well, really, I didn't think Murray would descend to 
cradle snatching," 

" Don't begin pitying her. She can look after herself. 
It's Murray who'll need the prayers of the congr^ation." 
" Poor :^Iurray." 

Every one laughed " Now you've given 3'oiu:self away, 
Catherine. We always sxispected. ..." 

" How long has it been going on ?" 

" It has only just blown up apparently." 

" \\Tien is Murray going to do something ? His music. 



THE WOMAN WHO DID THE RIGHT THING 53 

I mean. We've been expecting some magnum opus for 
years." 

" Never, I think. He's the kind that promises and 
promises and goes through all the evolutions of a genius 
and in the end never does anything." 

" Poor Murray." 

" But he's so attractive." 

"And a dear really — when he isn't making love." 

Barbara got away from the party, somehow. Dora ran 
after her. " But you can't go like that, Babs. Besides, 
it's raining." 

Barbara waved forlornly but finally as the lift carried 
her pale face out of sight. Dora returned slowly and 
thoughtfully to her party. 



The rain swirled down Macquarie Street, not heavy, but 
thick and feathery on the wind. Barbara was glad it 
was raining. She wanted to walk and walk. She turned 
to the right again into the Gardens. A deUcate lustre of 
colour had come back to them. The trees were dark 
and bloomed with rain till they looked like trees in a 
Corot canvas. Seeing it, Barbara thought inconsequently. 
" Corot was in love with trees." The wet grass was more 
green than brown, the upturned earth dark with mois- 
ture. There was a good grateful smell of wet earth on 
the air. 

Barbara followed one path after another, walking with 
short quick steps while her thoughts raced down their 
own dark channels and a slow black tide of bitter regret 
and disappointment welled up in her heart. ' ' For nothing, 
for nothing," she said over and over again to herself. 
Now something had crumbled in her. She wanted love, 



54 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

not Murray, only love. She had thrown it away for 
nothing. 

She saw, or thought she saw, the man in grey and the 
girl in blue, standing together very close and still under 
a tree with thick foliage, tented in by the rain. Perhaps 
she did not see them. It may have been an illusion, but 
an agony of rebeUion shook her and tears began to mingle 
with the rain on her cheeks. 

" My hat is ruined," She thought. " and I don't care." 
She could not imagine that she would ever want a hat 
again, or buy one or do any of the small commonplace, 
cheerful things of which her life had been made up. 



IT WILL GROW ANYWHERE 55 



IT WILL GROW ANYWHERE 

The orchestra behind the potted palms played a valse 
de concert with passionless verve. They always began 
with it. It tightened the tension like a pair of pliers. No 
one listened, but the clamant music, with its clipped 
sensuality, affected them nevertheless, stirred inchoate 
images, mixed, with their blood, and reflected itself again 
in the stubbed melodrama of raised voices, broken 
laughter and parade. It was one more roof upon their 
close, bright, ephemeral world. After the valse de con- 
cert there would be a pause, then a tango, a pause, a 
rhumba. . . The pauses were hollow and dramatic, 
filled with chatter and edged laughter. 

The The Dansant at the Golf House — the limited 
liability company that looked like a club — was an in- 
stitution. The people were always the same or looked 
the same. They all knew one another. They were all 
agreed, for a couple of hours, to accept the same mirage. 
Here the illusion lived, buoyed up like a balloon on the 
warm air, that every woman was beautiful and charming, 
and every man had a substantial bank balance — or at 
least a large overdraft. There was nothing here to prick 
it, from the fraternal manager-secretary to the great fan 
oif blue-powdered lihes in the mock-baronial fireplace. 
It was the tribal cave. 

There were men in plus fours, and girls in tweeds and 
bright pullovers — marigold, scarlet, emerald — straight 
from the links ; women in eye veils and silver fox capes 
who had driven over in their coupes ; a few very young 
girls still too inexpert to hide their innocent, awkward 
grace ; a scattering of avuncular men, the necessary 



56 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

padding. There was a scent of cigarettes and beeswax 
and coffee with an inner lining of something faintly 
astringent, like crushed green grass. The women passed 
in little puffs of warm purfume, of furs and powder. 
There was food, so much reduced and stylised as to be 
more a ritual than a nourishment or even a pleasure — 
acrid black coffee served with a bowl of airy whipped 
cream a la Floriani, pale scones leaking bright butter on 
the paper d'oyleys, over-dainty sandwiches drifted over 
with strands of limp lettuce like the conscientious hairs 
on a balding hea,d, tiny cakes, varnished and mathe- 
niatical, that only the adolescent were ever seen to eat. 
There was music. There was dancing that was like, not 
dancing itself but, in its more cogent moments, the short- 
hand symbols of dancing. 

They sat at a table that was a little withdrawn by 
reason of being in a bay window. Behind them was the 
semicircle of glass and the view, over the shining beetle 
backs of parked cars, to the sea. 

One .was lean, middle aged, with worn temples. A 
man not given to questioning the world about him and 
never, perhaps, challenged by it, his courtesy as ingrained 
as his income, neither stupid nor insensitive. A solicitor 
in a sedate line of business. He had his own place, which 
was not avuncular, and knew everyone. His companion 
soon would. In the perfect mask of convential prosperity 
were set the bright, inquisitive eyes of a pug. His sup- 
pressed vivacity and robust omnivorousness acted as a 
peculiar stimulus to the other. 

" Which is Mrs. Curtice ?" 

" The plump little blonde with her back to the light. 
In mushroom pink. The second Mrs. Curtice." 

" I suppose she's one of the people I'll meet ?" 



IT \\ILL GROW ANYWHERE 67 

" Yes, you'll meet Violet everywhere. That's Curtice 
with the red neck and sandy hair." 

" Oh, I've known him for years, on and off. Used to 
box with him when we were youngsters. He was a bit 
of an athlete then, plenty of go, but nowhere special to 
go to. Popular sort of chap ?" 

" Well hked. Everyone knows where they are with 
Ralph." 

" And where's that ?" 

" Nowhere in particular." 

" He gets there just the same, I suppose, and no one 
knows why. I've watched him from a distance putting 
on the whole armour of success — golf, rotary, avoirdu- 
pois. Didn't know he'd married twice, though. How do 
these chaps do it ? No looks, no brains, not enough 
money to account for everything. You and I haven't 
managed to get one between us." 

" In these parts no bachelor is ever despaired of. 
Ralph's a pretty warm man now." 

" The present lady looks well entrenched." 

" She is. Everyone has forgotten Struan, especially 
Violet. She went out like a match six years ago." 

" Death or divorce ?" 

" Divorce." 

" What was their trouble, or was it the same old 
thing ?" 

" It was the same old thing, but there were compH- 
cations. You see Struan was the perfect wife." 

" Some of them do try that. It's always fatal." 

" Struan didn't try. She was the perfect wife." 

" How perfect ?" 

•■ Perfect." 



58 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" You mean, she ran his home Hke a clockwork palace? 

" She did, but there was a lot more than that. You 
see, she understood him." 

" Once a woman understands a man, the poor devil 
hasn't a rag of privacy left." 

" It wasn't hke that at all." 

" Sorry, old man. She got a raw deal, didn't she ?" 

" It should have worked out, but it didn't. Ralph — 
she called him Rafe — had a roving eye. It began to 
rove before they had been married a year. Struan didn't do 
a thing about it. After a while Ralph didn't even pay her 
the comphment of being careful. One evening I remember 
he was being a bit obvious. It was the first time, too, 
that I realised that Struan was different from the rest of 
them. I just thought of her as a girl who was getting 
hurt, and had it in my mind I'd like to knock the fellow 
down. Just as anyone might feel." 

" Of course." 

" Struan must have seen it in my eyes. She didn't 
say, as another girl might ha\"e, 'It isn't important,' 
only 'It's part of Rafe, 5'ou know. I cant pick and 
choose.' No cracking hardy. Just that. She had a rather 
shattering honesty towards herself as well as towards 
others. I think it might have been one of her difficulties." 

" No doubt. That attitude works \Wth a husband nine 
times out of ten — ^but not the tenth." 

" Yes, ^'iolet was the tenth." 

" \^'as she dumb with love and all that ?" 

" I don t know. I made a bad break once, after everv- 
thing had blown up. I asked her if she still cared for 
Ralph. She gave me a startled look, and didn't answer." 

" How long did it last ?" 



IT WILL GROW ANYWHERE 59 

" Five years, and I don't think anyone expected it to 
break up. Curtice was in clover. Struan had money of 
her own. I know she used to pay for her own clothes, 
never nagged him for anything. She gave him a back- 
ground. The sort of thing other women tried to do 
with their houses and their parties, and couldn't." 

" Did the other women like her ?" 

" I don't think she was really popular, though they 
gushed over her a lot. I can't understand why. I never 
heard her say a spiteful thing about another woman. 
She was generous to a fault, and utterly loyal to Ralph." 

" How did he stand up to all that perfection ?" 

" I can't say he ever showed to much advantage." 

" U-u-m." 

" One takes sides. It's very foolish, of course, and the 
last thing Struan wanted. She couldn't bear anyone to 
sympathise, even when there was something obvious to 
sympathise with. She tried to have a baby, but some- 
thing went wrong. Struan was so brave about it, Ralph 
didn't get a chance. I imagine she apologised for her 
incompetence. Felt she'd failed him, anyhow. After that 
she hardened up a bit. She used to talk the patter of the 
moment, very bright and amusing, but I never got the 
impression that she was happy." 

" Then the tenth woman came on the scene ?" 

" Yes, Violet. I don't suppose Ralph was any more 
serious than he had been all the other times. He always 
had himself bluffed at first. But Violet was. She kept 
house for her father who was retired. Rather nonde- 
script people. Nobody called, I fancy, or took any notice 
of them. You know how cliquey people are here. If you 
don't measure up you might as well be ten years dead. 
Damned cruel, of course, I didn't think of it at the time, 
but knowing Violet now, I can pretty well imagine what 



60 THE PERSIMIVION TREE 

she felt then. She had social ambitions, wanted to escape 
out of her dreary Uttle home, wanted to marry. It was 
a life and death matter. They probably came here to 
better her chances and no one noticed her existance. 
You can imagine what she was like six years ago, two 
stone lighter, not so guilefully babyish, and as ready to 
fight as any cornered animal. I don't know how Ralph 
met her, a pick-up at one remove probably. Anyhow, 
she struck a spark in him, the usual spark, and blew on 
it for all she was worth." 

" They're alike. Don't you see it ? Soul mates, I 
shouldn't wonder. Damn funny." 

" She put pressiu^e on Ralph, till he asked Struan to 
release him. Struan went to see \lolet, sure, bless her 
poor innocent heart, that a httle straightforwardness 
between them would clear it up. It didn't. They say 
that when Struan caught sight of them both in a murky 
mirror in Violet's shabby httle drawing room she ex- 
claimed in her high clear voice : 'My dear, how absurd. 
You look like the wife and I look like the other woman, 
don't I ?' Violet treated her to a flood of Woolloomooloo. 
I can believe it of her but not before witnesses. Struan 
retreated. Honesty and sanity and humour were worse 
than useless, and she hadn't any other weapons. You 
see how innocent she was at heart ? She'd always had 
confidence in these things. Violet was implacable. She 
hated Struan far more than she loved Ralph, and Struan 
was no match for her. She offered to divorce Ralph, but 
Violet pointed out that she had no grounds. Violet was 
careful enough to keep her own position in^nolable, and 
his previous rovings had been condoned. The danger of 
manufactured evidence and the slur she felt it would cast 
on her romance, as, with a tough woman's sentimentcdity, 
she called it, set \iolet against any such plan. Struan 



IT WILL GROW ANYWHERE 61 

offered to let Ralph divorce her for desertion. That takes 
three years aiid Violet knew well enough that three years 
would beat her if she had only beauty's hair to hold 
Ralph with. Of course Struan was in an impregnable 
position, she had only to do what she had done so often 
before, nothing. But she agreed to let him divorce her. 
The thing was so ugly, so amazing to her, that she had 
no will to fight. She came to me about it." 

" Did you fix it up for her ?" 

"No, I gave her some good advice and sent her away." 

" Weren't you a bit of a fool ? I beg your pardon. It 
was your opportunity, wasn't it ? I mean, you might 
have done everything to spare her, when another man,- 
the kind that usually takes these cases, would just shove 
things along anyhow." 

" It would have been against my conscience, legal as 
well as personal." 

" It went through, I suppose ?" 

" Yes." 

" How did the other women take it ?" 

" They said 'Aren't men beasts ?' but they didn't go 
near Struan." 

" I gather that the first Mrs. Curtice was very good 
looking ?" 

" Struan would have been lovely if she hadn't been so 
damned fashionable. She wasn't satisfied unless every- 
thing looked as if it had been bought. That's all part of 
it, you know. She took things too seriously. All the 
shibboleths. She really believed in them. She thought a 
marriage 'could be made successful by observing all the 
rules. She was a civilized woman and that means she'd 
let go, slipped out of, that secret barbarian life that 
women lead. They knew it. She was an outcast. She 
had nothing to fall back on. When she failed, her whole 



62 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

scheme of things fell to pieces. It wasn't Ralph, it was 
the failure that broke her down." 

" Couldn't she be happy with the right man ? Someone 
who understood her ?" 

" Yes, if she would only let herself be. Someone who 
realised how sensative and innocent she is under it 
all. But the trouble is she can't get over it. She blames 
herself." 

" You still see her then ?" 

" Oh, yes, she comes into my office every now and then, 
looking as if she had everything under control. 'I suppose 
you couldn't take me to lunch,' she says, fastening her 
glove with an elegant, studied gesture like something 
learned from a book or a film. So vulnerable." 

" So you take her to lunch ?" 

" Yes, and we go over the whole affair. It does her 
good, I think. ReUeves her. But the trouble is, that 
having given me her confidence is a good reason for not 
seeing me again for months. She's so vunerable, so 
sensitive, so gallant." 

The inquisitive man felt uncomfortable. He didn't 
want to look at his companion. Some men went out 
and got drunk, some talked. Why me ? he thought. 
He'd been made a victim, a convenience. He was irritated. 
This wasn't tragic, it was comic. It wasn't even comic, 
it was futile. 

Dusk clung like gauze to the sea and the waves left 
arabesques of shining foam on the empty beach. The 
grey-green hills of the deserted golf course rose and fell 
as gentle as breathing. The casuarinas traced their 
ancient pattern against the faint green twilight sky. The 
golf house, like a ship from an unknown barbarous port, 
lay stranded and blazing on the serenity of the night. 



THE WRONG HAT .63 

THE WRONG HAT 

It looked a very expensive place, but Gwenda had said 
to come here. She wasn't even to think of money because 
they were giving her the hat, and they wanted it to be 
just exactly what she liked. This was the first time that 
she had been able to buy any hat that took her fancy 
without so much as looking at the price ticket. She was 
going to do the thing properly, she owed it to the children. 
It was more than a hat, Peter said, it was the Great 
Come Back. 

This was a beautiful room, large, high-ceUinged and 
serene — the sort of room calculated to serve as a pre- 
fect background for smart women. It was a pleasure just 
to sit here high above the crowded streets, the sales, the 
bargains, the Friday specials, in perfect tranquility. It 
was at once so sedate and so reckless. She knew how 
utterly rash and vulnerable that pearl grey super carpet, 
fitted right up to the walls, was. Everything was silvery, 
oyster coloured walls, grey woodwork, limpid mirrors, 
grey velvet curtains framing, like two great pictures, the 
view across the park and St. Mary's Cathedral to the 
tumbled insurgent sky line of King's Cross and, to the 
left, a blue bay of the harbour. 

Only half a dozen hats were in sight, poised on stands 
like young masts, elegent, immaculate, nonchalant. One 
of them in shiny black straw with a tiny crown and a big 
tilt was, she thought, the gayest, smartest hat that she 
had ever'seen. No doubt it was what the social columns 
always referred to as an amusing hat. But when she had, 
very tentatively, indicated it the girl who was looking 
after her had smiled and shaken her head. " That's not 
quite Madam's style." 



64 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Such a nice girl, as friendly and helpful, despite the 
sophistication of her rosy nails and sculptured curls, as 
Gwenda would be. Not a bit like a shop girl anxious to 
sell, only anxious to please. This was, had she known it 
the final flower of the professional amateur. She had 
gone to the workroom now to bring a charming little 
model that had only jtist been created and never before 
shown. 

The only blot in the room was her old hat. The children 
had been quite right. " Darling," Gwenda said, " You're 
not old. I'm going to make j'ou have nice things now 
we can afford them." And Peter, roughly tender in the 
way that always flattered her so, had said " Snap out of 
it, my girL We aren't going to let you settle down into 
a professional widow. If you only knew it, that hat you 
are wearing is nothing but a funk hole." She could see 
it now for what it w^as, the dowdy hat of a dingy woman. 
But she didn't have to be dingy. It was just a sort of 
habit that had crept on her. After the shock and misery 
of Jim's death she hadn't cared what she wore, so long 
as it was something plain and dark and cheap. Having 
gone into mourning she hadn't had the heart to come out 
of it, not even in six years. Now the children had taken 
a hand and announced a second spring. She realised that 
they were right. 

She looked at herself critically in the mirror. She had 
to admit that she looked quite . . . pleasant. Grey 
hair and a few wTinkles, of course, but not so bad. The 
light was kind. Here she realised what good things life 
offered and she felt that she had had a narrow escape 
from throwing them away prematurely. Her heart was 
light. 

Her eyes wandered lovingly to the smart little tilted 
hat. \Vh\- wasn't it her style ? She felt in her bones 



THE WRONG HAT 65 

that it was the very hat. There wouldn't be any harm 
in trying it on whilst the girl was away. She picked it 
up, it was as light as a feather and beautifully finished, 
probably came from Paris or New York and cost a pretty 
penny. You couldn't say it was too bright or juvenile. 

Carefully, she pressed the front of the brim against her 
forehead and fitted the ribbon bandeau over the back of 
her head as she had seen the assistant do. Unconsciously 
she imitated her almost caressing gesture. She looked in 
the mirror. Horrified, she peered closer. A pain, sharper 
than she had known for years, twisted her heart, a des- 
pair more sudden and complete than she had believed 
possible, engulfed her. The hat was jaunty and young, 
but the face beneath it was old and tired. The hat jeered. 
It threw into pitiless rehef every wrinkle and blemish. 
It marked the collision of two worlds. 

With trembling hands she took the hat off and returned 
it to its stand. An assistant and another customer were 
at the other end of the room, their backs turned. No 
one had seen. She sat down again, staring blankly before 
her. She had seen the image of her own death, and in this 
one moment it struck more closely home than anything 
that had ever happened to her. This had happened to 
her, to no one else. The children would never under- 
stand. They would try to laugh her out of it. She couldn't 
tell them. Oh, but she had seen it, seen it. The six years 
of her widowhood had been quiet and safe. She hadn't 
challenged time. 

The girl stood beside her holding the new model, but 
haggard eyes met the smihng ones in the glass. Slowly 
she shook her head as the tears welled. 

" No, my dear," she said, " I can't try it on. . . . It's 
too late," and she groped blindly for her old hat, her 
faithful friend. 



66 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



TINKLING CYMBALS 



CONVERSATION IN A BUFFET 

It was the peak hour in the buffet. A ceaseless clang 
rose to the serene grey satin-wood ceiling from the long 
counters and the little pens along the wall. This buffet 
was one of those barnacles that cling to the outer edges 
of the gay world. It would have been a rather curious 
place if it were not so commonplace. It was made up 
of odds and ends from all over the world. The wooden 
pens had obviously evolved from high pews in old 
churches ; the chromium plating, the shining compact 
orderliness beneath the hubbub was of the hospitals ; the 
long counters were recently reminiscent of the bar ; the 
decor was that of the cinema, and harmlessly American. 
The waitresses were cheeky but pretty, and the clientele, 
consuming three-decker sandwiches, waffle steaks, 
omelets and draught beer in globular tankards, were 
the sons and daughters, secretaries and lady friends 
(taking the day off) of the older people dining more 
solemnly and expensively in the great hotel over their 
heads. 

At this time, one o'clock on a Saturday, everything 
was submerged in noise, the genial clatter of one big 
party. The stout young man in the grey suit took no 
notice. He was very used to eating in such places. He 
was eating oysters now, lifting them tenderly one by one 
out of their shells, laving them in the sauce Momay, 
and conveying them to his mouth. ... He was pre- 
occupied but he was too naturally thrifty, to carefully 
aware of values, not to pay proper attention to his 



CONVERSATION IN A BUFFET 67 

oysters. He didn't intend to waste them on himself. 
But to the waitress's efforts at conversation he remained 
impervious. He did not think that it would be becoming 
in him to-day. The seat beside him, on which rested 
his new grey hat, remained miraculously vacant until a 
voice said : 

" Why didn't you tell me you owned the place, you 
old ruffian ?" 

" 'lo Jimmy," he said, removing the headpiece resignedly. 

Jimmy tucked his long legs under the counter and 
stowed his hat in one of the slots provided. He observed 
the oysters. 

" You're doing yourself proud." 

" Yes." 

" Celebrating something ?" 

" Not exactly." , 

" You're a close one, Bobby." 

Bobby smiled complacently at the compliment. The 
waitress brought him roast beef accompanied by 
vegetables-in-season in a bird bath. 

" I'm getting up my strength." 

" Well, well. I think I'll have a three-decker, they 
mayn't be strengthening, but they are filling." 

" I'm going to propose to a girl," said Bobby, with 
his mouth full. 

" What ?" 

" Marriage." 

" Bully for you. Who's the girl ?" 

" Elsa."- 

" Elsa ? I thought of asking her myself once." 

" What happened ?" 

" Nothing. I didn't ask her." 

" Did you ever ask a girl ?" Jimmy was not above 
learning. 



68 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" Not when I was sober." 

" Pity. It's a great feeling, you know." 

" Do you think she'll have you ?" 

" Just between you and me she's been keen on me for 
a long time." 

" You're a clam. I didn't even know you were going 
round together." 

" We haven't been. I've only just figured it out. You 
know me, Jimmy. When I make up my mind it stays 
put." He gave an unconscious imitation of Mussolini 
and speared another potato. " I'm dead serious," he 
said. 

" I'm sure you are, old man." 

" She hasn't just bowled me over, I've worked it all 
out. The man who isn't married is at a disadvantage in 
every way, socially and in business. Think of the benefit 
to my health alone in having regular meals and a quiet 
home life. I'll be able to do twice the work I do now. 
And I shouldn't wonder if Elsa wasn't a help to me even 
there. She has a good httle head." 

" And a dinky Httle curl beside her ear." 

Bobby frowned. " So I thought I'd take the plunge." 

" The snag is you've got to keep her." 

" Two can live as cheaply as one." 

Jimmy uttered a hollow laugh. 

" You can laugh but it's true. I ran it all out with a 
pencil and paper. I don't suppose I'll be coming here 
much now," and he cast a elegiac glance round the busy 
scene. 

" Love is enough," murmured Jimmy to the last frag- 
ment of his sandwhich. 

" We'll be married almost at once. I don't mind 
giving you a tip. It's cheaper to be married than 
engaged. An engaged girl expects a devil of a lot." 



CONVERSATION IN A TEA ROOM 69 

" You're shrewd, Bobby." 

Bobby looked at the menu. " I think I'll have some- 
thing more." He was arming himself from within. He 
decided on a strawberry cream waffle. 

" What a thing it is to be young," mumured Jimmy, 
contenting himself with a black coffee. 

" Of course there is Elsa's side," said Bobby, expanding 
a little over his waffle. " Pretty tough for a woman to 
have to just sit and wait and perhaps the man never 
comes. Elsa's a grand little girl. I'd hate to see her 
— you know what I mean — left." 

" She's a grand little girl but I can't see her being 
left in the lurch." 

" You left her." 

Jimmy wondered if he had better explain. He de- 
cided not to, things looked better as they were. He 
knocked cigarette ash into his saucer, looked up and 
there was Elsa coming towards them. He nudged Bobby. 

" There she is." 

Bobby looked up, and the strawberry impaled on his 
fork fell back into the cream with a soft plop, for Elsa 
was not alone. She clung possessively to the arm of her 
escort. She was in full war paint, and wore her most 
brilliant smile. She threw the two young men at the 
buffet a jaunty nod to divide between them. 



CONVERSATION IN A TEA ROOM 

The younger woman pulled off her gloves slowly, 
liberating a faint puff of powdery perfume. She had 
long, narrow nails, lacquered mother-of-pearl, and her 
narrow platinum wedding ring hid under other heavy 
rings heavy with diamonds. She looked abstractedly 



•^0 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

around the tea room. It was a cave of quiet high above 
the noisy street, its windows, elaborately draped, looked 
On to a blind brightness that did not penetrate the room. 
On each mock Jacobean table, covered with plate glass 
that "gleamed faintly, giving to the light a pale watery 
quality, floated three daffodils in a black glass vase. The 
custom for the day had hardly began, the air was not yet 
defiled with cigarette smoke nor the quiet by the clatter 
of cutlery. A clean, matutinal smell of furniture polish, 
of flower stems and water, added to the cool content 
of the room. 

She pulled in her attention slowly and with difficulty 
as if it were a fish on a line, and looked at last at her 
companion who was sa5dng, " What are we having, 
Lois ?" They looked together at the yeUow card that 
told them what they could have. Amy's hands were older, 
more heavily ringed, the nails dark red. They ordered 
hot buttered muffins, asparagus rolls, a plate of cakes 
and black coffee with cream. 

" I don't have breakfast so I'm usually hungry about 
this time," Amy explained. 

" I only have a squeezed grapefruit." 

" Is it good ?" 

" I don't know. I think I'll go back to the black 
coffee." 

She saw herself sitting up in bed, pale with sleep, break- 
fasting on black coffee and a cigarette. She liked the 
picture for she felt it was delicately depraved and knew 
that if was very young of her to think so. 

" Gladys Sheilds is on an all-cucumber diet. She says 
it's marvellous." 

Lois made a little face. 

" Yes," said Amy, decisively, " that's just what I say. 
What's the good of being thin if you are leathery?" She 



CONVERSATION IN A TEA ROOM 71 

looked with dissatisfaction at her muifin ; it was not 
buttery enough. She was wondering too, why Lois had 
begged her, with such soft urgency, to meet her this 
morning. There was no urgency visible now, sleek little 
thing. 

" I've just been to the hairdresser's. How do you think 
he has done me ?" Lois touched the triple row of 
mathematical golden curls under the brim of her bl^ck 
hat. She felt softly aware of herself in every movement. 

" Your hair always looks perfect, dear, it's such a 
marvellous colour." 

"Oh, do you think so ? I think it's terrible to have 
golden hair, nobody believes it's natural." 

"Aren't women cats ?" said Amy, incontinently taking 
a mirror from her handbag and peering at herself between 
bites. " I can't understand it. Well, after all. . . Live 
and let live is my motto. Of course, a good hairdresser 
is terribly important." 

" He's a Russian. He lost everything in the revolution. 
He didn't actually say so, but I gathered his father was 
someone very important. Just one or two things he let 
slip. He told me a lot about himself." 

" That's funny." 

" I'm not a snob. I mean we're all here in the world 
together, aren't we ?" 

" Oh, I didn't mean that. Only it's generally the other 
way about, isn't it ? Men's barbers talk and ladies' 
hairdressers listen." 

" He cQuld write a book, the things women tell him. 
But I'm funny, dear, I'm not like that." 

" Neither am I. But there is something in having your 
hair done. . . . Intimate, isolated and temporary. And 
looking' in the mirror all the time. Seeing him only in 
the mirror. It's different." 



Ti" THE PERSEXOIOX TREE 

" How cleverl}" you put it. I'm not a bit clever." 

" WTien a woman doesnt talk about herself, weD, I 
alwa\-s think there's a reason, don't \-ou ? Did you say 
\-our Russian was good looking ?" 

" Not exactly, but arresting. And fine eyes. ' 

" You must give me his address. I'm sick of my man." 

■' Of course, dear. But I can't promise anj'thing. He 
doesn't generally do dients himself. He onlv ad%Tses." 

" WeU. I could trv." 

" I'm sure he'd make an exception of you if 30U told 
him jou were a friend of mine." 

■ Thank j'ou so much, dear. It's sweet of you." 

" I sometimes think the only rest I get in the week is 
at the hairdresser's." 

" You are looking a httle tired, dear. But I thought 
you were rather dropping out. I didn't see you at the 
Thorlej's' httle do on Friday. I thought you always 
went there. You are great friends, aren't you ?'" 

" Len wouldn't go." 

"And you gave in to him, dear, was that wise ?" Amy 
leaned forward a httle, pushing aside her plate — ^the 
speciahst in consultation. 

" We had an a\\^ul row. " 

" You mustn't let him ride roughshod over you. Now 
is the time to make a stand. I don't have any trouble 
with Rex because he knows he can't do without me. 
He hterally can't take a step in his business without my 
ad\ice. I woxildn't tell everyone that. \Miat I say is. 
don't trust to love. \\'hat you want is a hold over than." 

" You're so clever. " 

' You don t think I'm butting in, do you. dear ?" 

" Of coiu^e not, darhng." 

" 1 was so sorry you missed the party. It was very 
bright. I don t think (ieoige was in his usual form." 



CONVERSATION IN A TEA ROOM 73 

" Oh. wasn't he ?" 

" They say she leads him a terrible hfe — but perhaps 
it's only malicious gossip. People will say anything." 

" I happen to know it's true." 

" What a pity. And he so popular — especicilly with 
women." 

" He can't help his charm, can he ? At heart he is 
very reserved." 

" Oh, really ?" 

The waitress laid the little yellow bill, decorously 
folded, in the exact centre of the table. 

" Well, I suppose we'd better. . . It has been delight- 
ful seeing you, dear." 

" There is nothing I love better than a good old talk." 

" No, Amy, it's mine. I asked you." 

" Oh, but, dear, it's my turn. You paid last time." 

" Did I ? I don't remember." 

" Neither do I, but I think you did." 

" Well, if you only think, it is mine." 

Their jewelled fingers met on the sUp of paper. They 
smiled winningly at one another. 

" Oh, weU " 

They fumbled among the expensive furniture of their 
handbags, touched their noses sohcitously with swans- 
down puffs, drew on white gloves, staring past one an- 
other, absorbed. 

" Ready ?" 

" Let's go." 

They sailed out. A waitress waylaid them. 

" I thought you'd paid. How silly of me." 

" I thought you had. How absurd." 

" Let me." 

"All right, dear. It's too hot to quarrel." 



74 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

They walked slowly down the shallow, thickly carpeted 
stairs, side by side. 

" You promised me the address of your hairdresser.'' 

" Yes, don't let me forget." 

They stood a moment in the doorway before stepping 
into the bright river of the street. Lois caught Amy's arm. 

" I want to ask you something. ... I wouldn't ask 
if it wasn't perfectly all right. . . . Really I wouldn't. 
It's only that — would you mind saying that we'd been 
to a matinee together this afternoon ?" 

Her eyes were wild, young, entreating in the perfect 
mask of her face. 



DIALOGUE AT THE BALLET 

The little girl sat as far back in her stall as she could, 
then she leaned forward a little ; in this way she was 
able to make her skirt cover her knees. Her legs, in black 
cotton stockings that had washed woolly, were tucked 
away under the seat, out of sight. Her hands, in the new 
cotton gloves Gran had bought her, were hidden under 
her hat which she held on her lap, the elastic wound 
round and round her forefinger till it had a funny, cold 
rubbery feeling, a no-feeling, bUnd and dumb. Her palms 
were pressed on the tight ball of her handkerchief, 
braced against it. She was, precariously safe like this, 
in a cave between the two large, opulent women who, 
smelling of powder and scent, of kid gloves and hair- 
dressers, bulged over her on either side in well-dressed 
curves. Her mind could dart out, like an ant-eater's 
tongue, and scoop in the amazing, lovely things that 
were happening on the bright stage in the great dark. 



DIALOGUE AT THE BALLET 75 

hollow theatre. She was safe and even obscurely happy 
so long as they talked about Their Own Things and took 
no notice of her, Aunt Catherine and her friend Mrs. 
Fumival. Aunt Catherine wasn't a real Aunt, she was 
a godmother. Godmothers were like Santa Claus, you 
didn't believe in them, only pretended to, to please 
Mummie and Daddy. You couldn't call them Mrs. 
Orwell-Vane, you had apparently to say " aunt." Until 
today Aunt Catherine hadn't meant anything except a 
dented silver mug and the funny metallic taste of hot 
milk when you buried your nose in it to drink. It was 
Solid Silver. Mummie talked about someome called 
Kitty, who used to be Aunt Catherine but wasn't now. . . 

When the lights went up, the little girl was taken by 
surprise just as she had been when they went out, but she 
didn't show it. She pressed hard on the handkerchief, 
and her eyes, which had been knobs in the darkness, 
suddenly flattened out. Aunt Catherine leaned towards 
her in a puff of warm air. 

" We're enjoying ourselves enormously, aren't we ? 
Oh, I do wish I was a little girl seeing the ballet for the 
first time. I'd love to be a little girl again, wouldn't 
you, Melisande ?" 

Mrs. Fumival had a name like barley sugar but she 
looked like a marshmallow. 

" Did you see her eyes ? As big as saucers. I got more 
pleasure looking at her than at the stage." 

" Please Aunt Catherine, let me look for myself !" 

"The next Ballet is going to be the one you'll like. 
Look on the programme, dear. There. Cendrillon. That 
means Cinderella. Won't that be lovely ? You know the 
story, don't you. Of course, you do. Mumsie must have 
told it to you lots of times — and now you're going to see 
it. My, isn't that grand ?" 



76 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" Isn't she a quiet little country mouse ? Struck dunlb 
with wonder, I shouldn't be surprised. You know what 
country children are like. Inarticulate, poor little thing. 
What would you expect, living at the back of beyond ? 
But we're marvellous friends already, aren't we, Bunny ? 
I invented a pet name for her coming in in the taxi. 
Yes, we had a taxi all the way from her grandmother's. 
Talk about the wilds of suburbia ! Bunny. Her birth- 
day's at Easter. Isn't it quaint ?" 

" You don't know rabbits like I do." 

" Of course Nellie is a very nice name, but I wanted 
something just special between ourselves." 

" She thinks Nellie is common." 

" I went to school with her mother. The sweetest 
thing. Plenty of money in those days but they lost it. 
Why she wanted to bury herself right out there in the 
bush I don't know. Love's young dream and all that, 
poor darhng. He never did much good. And then she 
wanted me to be godmother to her first. So touching." 

Darling Mummie. Poor darling little mummie. I know 
why. She wanted Aunt Catherine to do things for me. 
And now she has. She's taking me to the ballet. 

" Four children and that cHmate. I ask you is any man 
worth it ?" 

She thinks I'm deaf because I live in the bush. She'd 
look awful on a horse. Daddy would laugh at her. We all 
would. 

" The childie has come down to have her tonsils out. 
Her first trip to town. I tell her it's going to be fun in 
hospital after just the first tiny wee while, and she's as 
brave as brave. She's ten years old. You'd hardly think 
it, would you ?" 



DIALOGUE AT THE BALLET 77 

Gran's giving me my operation. Day after to-morrow. 
It won't be as bad as when the horse kicked me. 

" So I thought, even if it was a bit awkward for me 
just now, I must give her a treat. Do you like your treat, 
darling ?" 

" There, I've let the ice cream boy go by. Never mind. 
We are going to have afternoon tea after the show. 
Great big scrumptous ca.kes. How will you like that ?" 

No one makes cakes like my mummy's. She won two prizes 
in the show. 

" Funny little morsel, isn't it ? Not a word to be got 
out of her. I know she's having fun though. I know. 
We understand one another." 

" It's so good for her to see a little beauty. I believe 
in filling their little minds with beautiful things, don't 
you ? It helps." 

There's Fancy licking her colt, and the willows by the 
creek, and the new harvester, and the paddocks after rain. 
I want to go home. It's awful here. 

" Would you like to go to the lav., pet ? Sure ? Quite 
sure ? It's no good being obstinate. All right, but it's 
rude to shake your head like that. Say 'No thank you. 
Aunt Catherine.' Here's the orchestra coming back. If 
I were at my first ballet I'd be wild with excitement." 

Please don't smear talk all over it. Please let me see it 
all by myself. 

" Lool^ at the Sisters. Aren't they funny. . . . Well 
I never, there's puss. . . . Isn't it dinky ?. . . . Now 
we're going to see the Fairy Godmother. . . . You've 
got a fairy godmother too, haven't you ?. . . . Don't 
kick the seat, Nellie, it's rude. . . . Look, oh look. . . . 
It's just the loveliest ballet, isn't it ? . . . There's the 



7S THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Prince. Hes a girl really — or isn't he ? It's quite hard 
to tell with some of these people. . . . Never mind. . - 
It's ver\- pretty. ... I could die laughing at those 
Sisters. Clap, Bunny, clap hard to show you like it. Oh 
dear, I'm afraid it's nearly over. I'm exhausted. Melis- 
ande, entertaining a child is hard work if you ask me. 
God Save the King. Stand still and straight, pet. Don't 
fidgit, it isn't loyal. There. Did you enjoy yourself ? 
Did you ? She'll find her voice in a minute. Don't you 
feel just a teeny, weeny bit like Cinderella yourself, 
going to the ballet in a taxi with your godmother ? Eh, 
chidde ? " 

■ ■ No, I don't. I hated it," said the Uttle girl in a sudden 
loud voice, her face scarlet, her throat b^inning to 
swell with sobs. 



THE PARTY 79 



THE PARTY 

The footpath rang under her feet as if the hill were 
hollow. She had not been there before, and was con- 
vinced that she would not find her way. She stared 
incredulously at the street numbers and sought out, with 
a kind of fumbling desperation, like one learning braille, 
the landmarks that Rhonda had given her. She was late, 
and would probably be the last to arrive even at that 
sort of party. She had dawdled and dawdled, still thing- 
ing that perhaps she might not go, only in the end not 
going had proved worse than going. Not going would be 
a chasm of disappointment. It was enough to be late, 
she thought now, like the frightened man who believes 
his yawns will convince the world of his indifference. 

This was the block of flats. An imitation stone stair- 
case, mock baronial, mock grandeur, and behind the 
closed doors with their heavy antique knockers the same 
ordinary little flats, the same inescapable amenities. To 
the third floor. It wasn't only the stairs that made 
her heart beat so fast and high. It is shattering to go 
up to a smug, unknown door and ring the bell, knowing 
that a party lurks behind it. A close knit, if temporary, 
whole, a world whipped up out of conversation and 
sherry, to which she, the late comer, would be a stranger 
and an outcast, no matter how well she might know 
people. In the tight fitting, black frock that revealed so 
delicately the slender lines of her body, she felt that her 
heart was indecently exposed. 

Well, she'd taken the plunge. A room full of people, 
all standing up, all holding wine glasses, talking as if 
they knew on another much better than they did, eating 
sausage rolls and gherkins. She knew at once. John 



80 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

/ 

wasn't there. There wasn't a hopeful corner of the rootn 
you couldn't see at the first glance. 

Rhonda was beside her, in her eyes the look that said 
" My poor darling, how are you ?" The terrible, tender 
solicitude of a friend who knows and understands every- 
thing. But she only said, " I'll find Agnes for you." 
Old fashioned to be embarrassed because you did not 
know your hostess. But if I am I am, so what can I do 
about it? This was Agnes, wearing a snood. What in- 
credible affectation to wear a snood at your own party 
as if you had just arrived out of the blue, and hadn't 
been cutting sandwiches and impaling little what-nots 
on toothpicks all the afternoon. " So very kind. . . " 
she said, and yes, she knew nearly everyone. Agnes you 
could see was the soul of kindness. Now she had gone 
to fetch someone. " You must meet. ... so much in 
common." It was just as if she had said kindly, con- 
fidentially, " Now I'll go and get you a nice strong cup 
of tea and you will be all right." What she was likely to 
have in common with anyone, she couldn't imagine. 
She felt rather as she might have done if she had 
wandered into the party, wearing a diving bell. . . . 

There was a solid wall of conversation, unscalable, 
impenetrable. " Mallarme," someone said. So they still 
talked about Mallarme at parties. "In Spain. . ."some- 
one said. You always counted four points if you had been 
in Spain. Russia counted double, and London in the 
blitz came somewhere in between. You could be nos- 
talgic over Paris, but not over London, for after all, 
London had taken it and Paris hadn't. 

" My dear," said a strange young man solicitously. 
"You have nothing to drink." 

With a wine glass in her hand, she felt herself im- 
measurably better equipped. Someone touched her arm. 



THE PARTY 81 

She thought for a bUnd second that it might be John, 
but it was Agnes with the soul mate. A dark young man 
with a scar. She looked at him with an enquiring smile, 
and took a slow sip. That was better. She was getting 
the hang of it now. She would be able, after all, to give 
a very good imitation of herself this afternoon. 

" You sculpt, don't you ?" he said. 

" No," and then idiotically because it was like the 
snapping of a very thin life line. "I'm sorry. I would 
like to." 

" You mean," he asserted, " that you do but you think 
you're only at the beginning. There isn't any beginning, 
only a circle." 

" No," she said, fighting desperately now against the 
clay. " I mean no. I never thought of it. . . ." 

" You have a sculptor's hands," he asserted. 

In a moment it had become a nightmare conversation. 
She felt herself entangled in a net of meaningless words. 
She drifted into a group for protection, and when she 
drifted out she left him behind her. 

" Darling, where have you been hiding ? I haven't 
seen you for ages." 

"My dear, you are actually thinner, some people have 
all the luck." 

" Don't slip away before I've told you what I'm doing. 
I've given up the violin and I'm working in a factory. 
It's more satisfactory. The pattern is so much thicker ..." 

No one even mentioned John. He might have been dead 
or forgotten, like a stone at the bottom of a well. 

There was a picture on the wall, a red mouth with a 
Mona Lisa smile, set crookedly on a grey background. 
Just that and nothing more. A shutter flipped up in 
her mind and she saw it, really saw it. It was improbable 
but quite real. The solicitous young man stood before 



82 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

her, a plate in each hand. " Oyster patties or sausage 
rolls ?" It was one of those cryptic, irretrievable choices 
— heaven or hell and nothing to guide you. The casket 
scene. She wouldn't have either and he was disappointed 
to the point of despair. He had a beautiful maternal 
lust to feed people. 

She moved on. She hadn't noticed the door behind 
the curtain. It came to softly behind her, leaving her in 
sudden quiet and enlargement. It was as easy to escape 
as that. The balcony, hanging hke a bird cage on the 
cliffhke facade of the flats, was as far from the party as 
Cape York. It was early dusk with its false evanescent 
clarity beginning to melt at the edges, a Hght that blent 
the noonday incompatibles into a scena. In the fore- 
ground, blocks of flats set at all angles, each flat a httle 
box too small for the life it housed, so that it bulged 
out of the windows, hung over the balconies, burgeoned 
up through the roofs. Strings of coloured washing were 
as natural as vines. In WiUiam Street, narrow and Hving 
as an artery, coloured taxis moved like corpuscles. Over 
to the left, Woolloomooloo, pouring down the hill, houses, 
terraces, narrow streets fused into a solid mass, a 
grape bloom on its slates, a veil of Ught on the medioc- 
rity of its stones and bricks. Beneath the swept stretch 
of the waterfront, the wharves running neatly out into 
the bay. Beyond the lovely, unreal drop scene of the 
harbour, blue water, timbered headlcinds, even the bridge 
etherealised, a grey bow drawn across the blue. 

Her constricted heart dilated as if to the sweep of 
music. She could stand and look for a minute, her palms 
pressed to the roughness of brick, forgetting everything. 
Then her mind began to tear at its knot again. " Why 
had John not come ? Was it because he thought she 
might be there ? Or for no reason so definite, because 



THE PARTY 83 

he had forgotten the occasion, the time or the place. . . . 
the indifference of his freedom in which everything 
e^•entually was lost !" 

The dark \'oung man with the scar had found the 
door too. 

" I lost you," he said. 

That didn't need an answer, but she picked up her 
wine glass from the parapet. 

" Tell me," he said, " what do \ou do ?" 

" Nothing." she said. " That's killed it," she thought, 
and then, because that sudden sweep of music had left 
her defenceless, she began to tell him what she saw. 
" If I lived here I'd throw a line out of the window 
ever\- night, and eAery morning I'd haul in a short story." 

" Writing." He drove the metal of his contempt into 
the word. " That's no good. You can imagine anything 
at all and write it dowTV. No limits and no discipline, 
it's only a hide-out for people who haven't fmything to 
say." 

That didn't fetch her because he couldn't possibly say 
anything that touclied her now. She felt indifference 
like a dead weight. 

" You're the sort," he said with the insolence of a 
man who succeeds with women, " You're the sort who 
promises everytliing and gives nothing." 

In a small cold \oice she said, " I would like another 
glass of wine and something to eat." 

" Certainly." He held the door for her to enter. 

In the crowded room conversation was already in a 
more advanced state. One cannot afford to drop out. 
Talking is. hke drinking, progressive. When you aie a 
few drinks behind everyone else, you are in a different 
world. 



84 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Rhonda caught her fingers in a quick, affectionate 
squeeze. " It's a nice party, isn't it ?" she said en- 
couragingly. 

It was a nice party. 

" I'm so glad you clicked with Simon. He is doing 
something and going somewhere even if he is the world's 
greatest egoist." 

The something in common. 

She told Agnes that she had a dinner engagement, 
that she'd have to tear herself away. 

One of the boys, Agnes said, would see her down. . . . 

Please, please. . . . everyone was so happy. Let her 
just slip away. It was so easy to break up a party. . . . 

She went into the bedroom. A stout woman had taken 
her shoes off because they hurt her, and was sitting on 
a low chair, smoking. Another was re-making her face 
very earnestly in a small mirror. Two more lounged on 
the bed. There was the intimate ease of women off 
parade, a freshet of laughter, a fragment of story like a 
tit-bit among gulls. Politely they suspended their con- 
versation, politely made way for her. In the mirror she 
saw with surprise that the delicate mask of her make-up 
was still intact. She said good-bye, not remembering 
ever to have seen these women before. 

She pulled the front door to after her. The air was 
suddenly cool, thin and flavoured with plaster. Three 
flights of imitation stone stairs, mock baronial, mock 
grandeur. In the street it was almost dark. She looked 
up and saw the lighted windows of the flat, golden in 
the blue dusk. She had left a world that, if it wasn't 
safe, was at least warm. It was being alone that was 
so terrible. 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 85 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 

It was to buy bird-seed that Kathie, Fraulein von Hillse, 
decided to risk a journey through the streets. There was 
nothing left in the blue lacquered tin with the Japanese 
pagoda design that was almost worn off with long use. 
Long ago, before the war, when they were just beginning 
to be sweethearts, Johann had given her this tin filled 
with the most elegant little biscuits, nut shaped ones 
filled with chocolate paste, heart shapes covered with 
pink sugar crystals, candied violets in little baskets of 
macaroon. You didn't see things like that in Vienna 
now, not even for the rich tourists. It had just been one 
of many little gifts, hyacinths growing in pots, boxes of 
crystallised fruits, books, not very much heeded, but it 
had outlived them all. Even now Kathie could not handle 
it without a curious feeling as if a door somewhere had 
swung open, and the breath of a long dead springtime 
wafted across her senses. It stirred in her quite auto- 
matically a little pulse of homesickness, of nostalgia. 
Rather a faded emotion, but there. 

Elsa coming at dusk yesterday with a basket of pro- 
visions, had not thought of canary seed. It was like Elsa 
to have come herself, to make nothing at all of the risk 
she ran. All through the dark years since the war Elsa 
had been the one fixed and steady light in Kathie's 
world — Elsa who could make sacrifices without repining, 
take burdens without comment, Elsa who had come 
yesterday through the dangerous streets with their spor- 
adic fighting, which no one seemed able to foretell, to 
provision Kathie, so that she would not have to go out, 
even though she herself was distracted by fear and 
anxiety. 



86 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" Franz," she said slowly, her long white capable hands 
deftly unpacking the basket, " hasn't been home for 
two days." Then after a puase " Hermann is in Berlin. 
I've been to the hospitals. I'll try them again." 

" Let me come with you," Kathie urged. 

" It's easier for one. I'm less frightened alone," Elsa 
said. " I'll be quite safe, I know that." There was a note 
of despair in her voice as if she had tried to make a bar- 
gain with God, offering her hfe for her son's, and it had 
been refused. 

Kathie had promised that she would stay quietly at 
home until things settled down, but now she was faced 
by the empty tin. It made her feel more forlorn, lonely, 
and shut up, than anything else had done. At last 
she really felt threatened. She looked at the bird in the 
cage, her little friend. It was natural for her to suffer, 
or so it seemed now, but not for him. She really did feel 
that he was her friend, her darling. When she came back 
to her small apartment each afternoon from the Univer- 
sity, where Hermann, Elsa's husband, had got her a 
clerical job, he jumped about in his cage and chirped. 
He welcomed her. When she opened the cage as she 
often did, he fluttered round the room and came to perch 
on her hand. She loved the feel of his tiny fragile claws. 
He was not in the least afraid of her. She could even 
hold him in her closed hand and feel him vibrating with 
life and the tiny heart beating against her fingertips. 
He would draw his head back then and look at her first 
out of one beady eye and then out of the other, so know- 
ing, so sure. And he sang. When Frau Miiller worked 
the sewing machine in the room next door, when the 
sun came streaming into the room in the afternoon, and 
sometimes for no reason at all except that he was happy, 
song came pouring from his little throat. Yesterday, 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 87 

when the machine gun had been whining and stuttering 
in the street, he had tried to sing it down. Never had he 
sung so bravely. She almost feared his heart would burst. 

Fraulein Kathie had a very strange thought about her 
bird sometimes, which she never told to anyone. It was 
that he was in some curious way herself, the gay and for- 
tunate Kathie, who had been young and sought after and 
had loved Johann, long ago before the war. Nearly twenty 
years ago. It was as if the bird were her own singing 
heart so long silent in her breast. He was the happiness 
that was no longer hers, but yet shared her room with 
her. When he sang, something was released in her. 
Something that she thought would never answer again, 
replied to him. 

Fraulein Kathie put on her hat and coat. After all it 
was not far to Schlesmann's shop where she could buy 
the seed and a chillie or two. She opened the shutter a 
little and looked out. The street was very quiet— -shut- 
tered windows, bolted doors, tight lipped house with 
blank faces, no one passing to and fro. There hadn't 
been any firing since yesterday. That hadn't been so 
very terrible either, just some rifle shots and then the 
nervous rattle and stutter of the machine gun. There 
had been nothing to see even then but dust in the street, 
some fallen plaster from a cornice, and a dark, insigni- 
ficant looking huddle of clothes at the corner that was 
nevertheless a man's body. Kathie had not been fright- 
ened or excited — only, when the bird sang, a little exalted. 
Emotions did not come readily to her now. It was as 
if she had to lift a weight off her heart before she could 
feel anything. All her emotions, even the pride and joy 
she felt in the brilliant boy, Franz, even her fear for him 
now, came to her slowly and with difficulty. 



88 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

It was strange in the deserted streets. Kathie remem- 
bered a day when she was a child and instead of 
going to school, had run away to play alone under the 
lilacs in the Stadtpark, to walk alone, guilty and happy, 
through the white surf of daisies on the spring lawns. 
Even the air had felt different on her cheek. It did 
today. 

It was only a few minutes walk to Schlesmann's shop. 
When she got there the door was shut and planks had 
been roughly nailed over the one small window. The 
broken glass was swept up against the wall. Peering 
between the boards Kathie saw the trampled litter of 
the interior. It had been looted. Poor old Schlesmann, 
what had become of him ? Kathie went on, a few blocks 
away there was another little shop. 

Here was a house that she knew well. It had been 
burnt, and on all the neighbouring walls were pale 
furrows and nicks where bullets had passed. Round the 
next corner she found a barricade across the street and 
a posse of soldiers. Kathie stopped, not quite knowing 
what to do. A young lieutenant came towards her. 
" You cannot pass this way, Fraulein. If you are wise 
you will go home." He spoke to her quietly and cour- 
teously. He was a nice boy, she thought, not more than 
twenty years old, a true Viennese, fair oval face, full lips 
and heavy lidded eyes. Kathie moved away obediently 
in the direction she had come. 

Then a sudden thought came and she stood still, 
shocked. The young lieutenant reminded her of Franz. 
And they, Franz and he, were enemies. Franz was a 
rebel, he who had never suffered anything in his own 
person, who was protected by his father's position but 
must generously, recklessly throw himself into a lost 
cause, flinging himself against the iron wall of the new 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 89 

tyrany to make a new world where, her sick heart told 
her, not even the materials of a new world were left. 
Franz, making them all unhappy, despising his father's 
money for the way it was earned, although he couldn't 
escape its benefit, despising his mother for her marriage, 
although it had meant his birth, not understanding at 
all the sacrifice she had made, that she continued to make. 
Franz and that young heutenant cancelling out. 

Kathie walked on quickly. Presently she came out in 
the Ring, the wide boulevarde that circles the heart of 
Vienna and rims where the old city wall used to stand. 
Here there was more traffic but not much, swift closed 
cars, a lorry with soldiers, a few pedestrians. The hand- 
some buildings, that lined it, looked serenely down. "The 
lovely shell of Vienna," thought Kathie, " but there is 
no health or prosperity left in her." That seemed an old, 
old thought. 

She would cross the Ring in the direction of the Prater ; 
there were plenty of small shops there in the labyrinth 
of streets. They could not all have been looted. She 
would tap on a side door, buy her seed furtively and 
quickly and hurry home. Already she was feeling tired. 
There was tension in these unnaturally quiet streets. 

A young man began to run. In the distance, from the 
direction of the University, Kathie heard several shots. 
A church bell, wild, terrible, insistant, began to ring, 
clashing Eind clajtnouring. Under its hghtning there came 
presently the thunder of lorries. There was now a ner- 
vous staccato fusilade of shots. Presently the machine 
guns would start. That was how it began, this feverish, 
sporadic fighting. First a dead calm, silent, waiting, an 
isolated shot or two, then almost at once a frenzy of 
excitement, a sort of nerve storm, hysterical courage and 
wanton destruction. No one seemed to know from which 



90 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

house the firing might b^;in at any time. The conflict 
had no definite outlines, it came and went hke an ague, 
more a matter of ner\'es than passion. When it died 
down again, the ambulances came and took the wounded 
to the hospitals, the dead to the morgue, the fire brigade 
turned out and extinguished the fires. The poUce nailed 
planks over shattered windows, and cleared the glass out 
of the way. They even went about arresting people. All 
neat and orderly and according to r^ulations. 

Kathie stood on the kerb nervously buttoning and un- 
buttoning her glove. In a moment every^ing was 
changed, people were running, mounted troops, coming at 
the gallop, followed lorries with machine guns, other bells 
further away, b^an to ring. Behind the troops came 
two ambulances. Kathie began to walk with nervous, 
jerky steps in the direction of the University-. She had no 
very clear idea of what she was doing, the wild clamour 
of the bells in her ears dazed her. All at once they stopped 
and the soimd of the fighting crackled and blazed on the 
tingling silence. Nobody noticed Fraulein Kathie. There 
were a lot of soldiers about, but no one told her to go 
back. She had a confused idea that she ought to do some- 
thing, that now at last she was going to wake from her 
dumb, hurt letharg\-. She would do her part. Perhaps 
Franz was down there, she would find him and bring 
him home ; perhaps he was hurt. 

It all happened around the University, familiar ground, 
where she had gone to work each day until the Univer- 
sity was closed by the Authorities a fortnight ago. She 
was nearer now and cojild see what was happening. The 
students had made a sortie and were fighting fiercely 
round one of the army lorries for a machine gun. They 
were evidently in possession of one of the buildings, and 
firing from the windows. The machine gun was silent. 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 91 

Kathie could hear the words of command quite clearly, 
saw the soldiers kneeling to fire into the crowd. " Why," 
she thought, "I'm in action !" 

So this was what it was like. She thought of Johann, 
who was dead, and Franz, who was lost, and of the bird 
in the cage at home, singing his little heart out. She 
did not feel afraid. A bullet hit the wall behind her, 
then another one, glancing off again. She felt a sudden 
fiery stab between her shoulders and for a second did 
not understand what had happened. Someone was run- 
ning towards her. She thought it was Franz or the young 
lieutenant. Then blackness bubbled up in her throat and 
she fell. 



The sun crept across the face of the apartment building 
and, finding the chink in the shutter, streamed into 
Fraulein Kathie's deserted room. It fell on the table, 
where the empty tin with the pagoda design lay, it 
touched the faded photo of a young man in uniform, 
found the bird cage on the wall. The room had been 
dim and silent all day, the canary had hopped about on 
the floor of his cage picking up the seeds he usually 
despised. Now he sang. 

Frau Miiller, in the room across the passage, said 
" There's that bird." She went over and tapped at 
Fraulein von Hillse's door. It was still locked. " She'll 
have gone to her sister's," she thought. "It's well to 
have rich relations these days, though I don't know that 
I'd like a Nazi for a brother-in-law." 

The sun passed on. The bird did not sing again that 
day. 

Kathie lay in the hospital. She did not know anything 
as definite as that. She was wrapped in a thick hot haze 



92 THE PERSIUMOX TREE 

She was made of haze herself, and would float away 
except that a red hot stake was driven through her. She 
tried to get free because there was something she must 
do. It was terribly important, but she did not know what 
it was. The more she struggled the more it hurt. Red 
flames mounting in the night, flames hke beUs. 
" I must sing," thought Kathie. 

The doctor asked the sister if the patient had recovered 
consciousness. 

' No, Herr Doktor." 

" And j^ou do not know who she is }et ?" 

" No, Herr Doktor, there have been no enquiries yet." 

The doctor held the lanquid hand, taking the pulse. 

He made a Uttle significant grimace and exchanged a 

glance with the sister. There was something final in the 

way he laid Kathie's hand down again on the bed. 

The sister was emboldened to ask him a question, 
although it was against the etiquette of the occasion. 
" Herr Doktor, how is the boy in Xo. 27 ?" 
The doctor answered negUgently but without offence, 
" He'll recover all right but he may lose his hand. 
The bomb, you know. ..." 

Thev moved on to the next bed. 



There was only a drop of water left in the small vessel 
hooked on to the side of the canarj-'s cage, and there was 
no seed left at all. Yet when, on the third afternoon of 
his loneliness the stmbeam through the chink in the 
shutter reached him, he semg again, lifting his head and 
ruffling his feathers. Frau Miiller did not hear him, for she 
had fled from Vienna. Xobody was to hear him sing again. 



In the confusion of pain and darkness that was Kathie's 
mind a httle space cleared, a rift of shining clcuity. It 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 93 

seemed to be not in herself but in the sky above her, 
something she must struggle towards. Her eyes were 
open, she turned her head very slowly from side to side. 
The sister came to her bed and bent over her, a clear 
young face between the folds of her coif. Kathie struggled 
with a question. She wanted to ask if Franz had been 
found. The words seemed to waver like smoke from her 
lips, but she heard herself say, " Johann. . . . where is 
he ? Is he all right ?" 

" He's all right," said the sister soothingly. 

Kathie remembered. She had seen him running towards 
her in the street but he had been in uniform. Something 
terrible had been happening. Her struggling, questioning 
eyes remained fixed on the sister's face. The girl bent 
closer and said clearly and slowly, " Johann is safe and 
well. It's all right." 

Kathie felt cool light spread over her. She understood. 
She had been ill. This was a hospital. She had been 
very ill for a long time and had terrible dreams. She 
had thought Johann was dead. She knew just where the 
bad dream had begun. She was with Elsa in their little 
sitting room. Elsa's long golden plaits fell one over each 
shoulder. Mama said, " Elsa, when will you put your 
hair up ? You are too old to wear it like that." 

" But I don't want to grow up. Mama," cried Elsa. 
" I want to stay just like this for ever and ever." And 
she began to twirl round the room humming a waltz. 

There was a ring at the front door, a long, loud, mas- 
culine rin%. " There's Johann come to take you riding in 
the Prater," said Elsa. But it was not Johann, it was 
Hermann to see Elsa. Elsa turned away, flushing and 
naughty. " I won't see him," she said. " Tell him I've 
gone into a convent, and have smallpox." 



94 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

While they had been laughing and whispering Johann 
had come in. He looked so changed, older and sterner. 
He had terrible news. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand 
had been assassinated at Serajevo. The air seemed to clot 
about them. " This will mean war," said Johann. She 
fingered the braid on his breast and put her arms round 
his neck, to hold him. What agony to lift her arms, a 
pain that dashed in a surf upon her brain, blotting out 
all thought. 

Kathie's lips were moving, but no one could hear what 
she said. She was talking to Johann, and the words 
seemed to run straight out of her heart without the effort 
of speaking. 

" Darling, darUng, darling, I've had such a bad dream. 
Your hand, Liebchen, I thought you'd lost your right 
hand. You came back from the war and there was 
nothing for you, only me, and I wasn't enough." Kathie 
tried to laugh, but she couldn't do that just yet. "Your 
father was dead and there wasn't any money and what 
could you do with only one hand, and so many men with 
two hands looking for work ? Little Elsa married Her- 
mann — I thought that too — she did it to save us all 
from going under, starving perhaps, and we let her 
although we hated the way Hermann got his money, out 
of everyone's suffering. Such a terrible, dark, defeated 
winter, darling. The worst thing of all was that I couldn't 
help you, Johann. I wanted you to marry me and let 
Elsa help vis to live somehow, just cower together in a 
tiny, tiny room, keeping one another alive, keeping our 
Uttle flame of love and happiness aUve till times got 
better. You wouldn't, Johann. I thought if I loved you 
enough I could make up for everything. But I coulthi't. 
You'd been through too much to want lo\<;. You 
couldn't love or hope. But you were so quiet and gentle. 



FIGHTING IN VIENNA 95 

Just sat with your useless arm . . . Life couldn't ever have 
been as bad as that dream, could it, Johann ? Things 
like that couldn't happen really, could they ? God 
wouldn't let them. You didn't even tell me what was in 
your mind, you tried to comfort me. Then it was spring 
again. The lilac came out just as usual as if nothing had 
happened that winter. I could smell it in the streets 
and I thought, walking home, that everything would be 
better now. I'd get you out into the sunshine and you'd 
be healed. But you weren't at home, you weren't any- 
where, you'd thrown yourself into the canal, like so 
many others. . . " 

A low, moaning cry came from Kathie's lips. " Poor 
soul," thought the old woman in the next bed, " if only 
she could go." 



That day the canary did not sing. He sat huddled on 
the perch, his beak open, gasping. A fine dust had settled 
on ever5d;hing in the room, even, it seemed, on the eyes 
of the bird. 



Miraculously, Elsa was there beside the bed, holding 
her hand, calling her name, forcing her up through turbid 
waters. Five days had changed Kathie very much, her 
face was shrunk and small, her lips cracked with fever. 
Her eyes, dark and troubled, looked from another world. 

There was a white screen around the bed, and, although 
she smiled, Elsa was weeping. The sister stood beside her. 

There ^^as an immense question in Kathie's eyes. Her 
spirit was saying to her body," Why are you suffering 
so ? Can I be dying ?" But they did not know that. 
Elsa tried to answer that look. 

" Franz is safe," she said slowly, distinctly. " He's 



96 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

here. He was hurt the day you were. His poor hand. . . . 
but he won't die." 

" Johann," whispered Kathie. 

" I'll take him right away from Vienna. We'll begin 
again." The sister made a little warning movement. 

Kathie's mind was pulling itself free, with terrible 
agonising jerks coming back to reality. She must tell 
Elsa about the empty tin. 

" I couldn't," she whispered. " Schlesmann's. . . ." 

" What did she say," asked Elsa. The sister shook 
her head. 

Kathie was trying to raise herself, beating agonised 
hands against the pain and the darkness. " He sang." 
she said quite clearly. 

Then the stake was drawn out of her breast. She was 
free. There rose in her a fountain of blood, of tears, of 
song. 



A small untidy heap of ruffled feathers lay on the floor 
of the bird cage, the tiny, claw-like feet stood stiffly up. 
The sunlight found only silence and dust. Outside, the 
street was awaking, shutters were opened cautiously, 
vehicles passed. Life began again. 



THE LOTTERY 97 



THE LOTTERY 

The first that Ted Bilborough knew of his wife's good 
fortune was when one of his friends, bji elderiy wag, shook 
his hand with mock gravity and murmured a few words 
of manly but inappropriate S5Tnpathy. Ted didn't know 
what to make of it. He had just stepped from the stair- 
way on to the upper deck of the 6.15 p.m. ferry from 
town. Fred Lewis seemed to have been waiting for him, 
and as he looked about he got the impression of news- 
papers and grins and a little flutter of half derisive 
excitement, all focused on himself. Everything seemed 
to bulge towards him. It must be some sort of leg pull. 
He felt his assurance threatened, and the comer of his 
mouth twitched uncomfortably in his fat cheek, as he 
tried to assume a hard boiled manner. 

" Keep the change, laddie," he said. 

" He doesn't know, actually he doesn't know." 

" Your wife's won the lottery !" 

" He won't believe you. Show him the paper. There 
it is as plain as my nose. Mrs. Grace Bilborough, 52 
Cuthbert Street." A thick, stained forefinger pointed to 
the words. " First prize £50C0 Last Hope Syndicate." 

" He's taking it very hard," said Fred Lewis, shaking 
his head. 

They began thumping him on the back. He had travel- 
led on that ferry every week-day for the last ten years, 
barring a fortnight's holiday in January, and he knew 
nearly everyone. Even those he didn't know entered into 
the spirit of it. Ted filled his pipe nonchalantly but 
with unsteady fingers. He was keeping that odd unsteady- 
ness, that seemed to begin somewhere deep in his chest, 
to himself. It was a wonder that fellows in the office 



98 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

hadn't got hold of this, but they had been busy today m 
the hot loft under the chromium pipes of the pneumatic 
system, sending down change and checking up on credit 
accounts. Sale time. Grace might have let him know. 
She could have rung up from Thompson's. Bill was 
always borrowing the lawn mower and the step ladder, 
so it would hardly be asking a favour in the circumstances. 
But that was Grace all over. 

"If I can't have it myself, you're the man I like to 
see get it." 

They meant it too. Everyone liked Ted in a kind sort of 
way. He was a good fellow in both senses of the word. 
Not namby pamby, always ready for a joke but a good 
citizen too, a good husband and father. He wasn't the 
sort that refused to wheel the perambulator. He flour- 
ished the perambulator. His wife could hold up her head, 
they payed their bills weekly and he even put something 
away, not much but something, and that was a triumph 
the way things were, the ten per cent knocked off his 
salary in the depression not restored yet, and one thing 
and another. And always cheerful, with a joke for every- 
one. All this was vaguely present in Ted's mind. He'd 
always expected in a trusting sort of way to be rewarded, 
but not through Grace. 

" What are you going to do with it, Ted ?" 

" You won't see him for a week, he's going on a jag." 
This was very funny because Ted never did, not even on 
Anzac Day. 

A voice with a grievance said, not for the first time 
" I've had shares in a ticket every week since it started, 
and I've never won a cent." No one was interested. 

" You'll be going off for a trip somewhere ?" 

" They'll make you president of the Tennis Club and 
you'll have to donate a silver cup." 



THE LOTTERY 99 

They were flattering him underneath the jokes. 

" I expect Mrs. Bilborough will want to put some of 
it away for the children's future," he said. It was almost 
as if he were giving an interview to the press, and he 
was pleased with himself for saying the right thing. He 
always referred to Grace in public as Mrs. Bilborough. 
He had too nice a social sense to say " the Missus." 

Ted let them talk, and looked out of the window. He 
wasn't interested in the news in the paper tonight. The 
little boat vibrated fussily, and left a long wake like 
moulded glass in the quiet river. The evening, was draw- 
ing in. The sun was sinking into a bank of grey cloud, 
soft and formless as mist. The air was dusky, so that its 
light was closed into itself and it was easy to look at, a 
thick golden disc more like a moon rising through smoke 
than the sun. It threw a single column of orange light 
on the river, the ripples from the ferry fanned out into 
it, and their tiny shadows truncated it. The bank, rising 
steeply from the river and closing it in till it looked like 
a lake, was already bloomed with shadows. The shapes 
of two churches and a broken frieze of pine trees stood 
out against the gentle sky, not sharply, but with a soft 
arresting grace. The slopes, wooded and scattered with 
houses, were dim and sunk in idyllic peace. The river 
showed thinly bright against the dark land. Ted could 
see that the smooth water was really a pale tawny 
gold with patches, roughened by the turning tide, of 
frosty blue. It was only when you stared at it and con- 
centrated your attention that you realised the colours. 
Turning to look down stream away from the sunset, the 
water gleamed silvery grey with dark clear scrabblings 
upon it. There were two worlds, one looking towards the 
sunset with the dark land against it dreaming and still, 
and the other looking down stream over the silvery river 



100 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

to the other bank, on which all the light concentrated. 
Houses with windows of orange fire, black trees, a great 
silver gasometer, white oil tanks with the look of clumsy 
mushrooms, buildings serrating the sky, even a suggestion 
seen or imagined of red roofs, showing up miraculously 
in that airy light. 

" Five thousand pounds," he thought. " Five thousand 
pounds." Five thousand pounds at five per cent, five 
thousand pounds stewing gently in its interest, making 
old age safe. He could do almost anything he could think 
of with five thousand pounds. It gave bis mind a 
stretched sort of feeling, just thinking of it. It was hard 
to connect five thousand pounds with Grace. She might 
have let him know. And where had the five and three- 
pence to buy the ticket come from ? He couldn't help 
wondering about that. When you budgeted as carefully 
as they did there wasn't five and threepence over. If 
there had been, well, it wouldn't have been over at all, 
he would have put it in the bank. He hadn't noticed 
any difference in the housekeeping, and he prided himself 
he noticed everything. Surely she hadn't been running 
up bills to buy lottery tickets. His mind darted here 
and there suspiciously. There was something secretive in 
Grace, and he'd thought she told him everything. He'd 
taken it for granted, only, of course, in the ordinary run 
there was nothing to tell. He consciously relaxed the 
knot in his mind. After all, Grace had won the five 
thousand pounds. He remembered charitably that she 
had always been a good wife to him. As he thought that 
he had a vision of the patch on his shirt, his newly washed 
cream trousers laid out for tennis, the children's neatness, 
the tidy house. That was being a good wife. And he had 
been a good husband, always brought his money home 
and never looked at another woman. Their's was a model 



THE LOTTERY 101 

home, everyone acknowledged it, but — well — somehow he 
found it easier to be cheerful in other people's homes 
than in his own. It was Grace's fault. She wasn't cheery 
and easy going. Something moody about her now. 
Woody. He'd worn better than Grjace, anyone could see 
that, and yet it was he who had had the hard time. All 
she had to do was to stay at home and look after the 
house and the children. Nothing much in that. She 
always seemed to be working, but he couldn't see what 
there was to do that could take her so long. Just a touch 
of woman's perversity. It wasn't that Grace had aged. 
Ten years married and with two children, there was still 
something girlish about her — raw, hard girlishness that 
had never mellowed. Grace was — Grace, for better or 
for worse. Maybe she'd be a bit brighter now. He could 
not help wondering how she had managed the five and 
three. If she could shower five and threes about like that, 
he'd been giving her too much for the housekeeping. And 
why did she want to give it that damnfool name " Last 
Hope." That meant there had been others, didn't it ? 
It probably didn't mean a thing, just a lucky tag. 

A girl on the seat opposite was sewing lace on silkies 
for her trousseau, working intently in the bad light. 
" Another one starting out," Ted thought. 

" What about it ?" said the man beside him. 

Ted hadn't been listening. 

The ferry had tied up at his landing stage and Ted got 
off. He tried not to show in his walk that his wife had 

it 

won £5000. He felt jaunty and tired at once. He walked 
up the hill with a bunch of other men, his neighbours. 
They were still teasing him about the money, they didn't 
know how to stop. It was a very still, warm evening. As 
the sun descended into the misty bank on the horizon it 



102 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

picked out the delicate shapes of clouds invisibly sunk in 
the mass, outlining them with a fine thread of gold. 

One by one the men dropped out, turning into side 
streets or opening garden gates till Ted was alone with a 
single companion, a man who lived in a semi-detached 
cottage at the end of the street. They were suddenly 
very quiet and sober. Ted felt the ache round his mouth 
where he'd been smiling and smiling. 

" I'm awfully glad you've had this bit of luck." 

"I'm sure you are, Eric," Ted answered in a subdued 
voice. 

" There's nobody I'd sooner see have it." 

" That's very decent of you." 

" I mean it." 

" Well, well, I wasn't looking for it." 

" We could do with a bit of luck like that in our house." 

" I bet you could." 

" There's an instalment on the house due next month, 
and Nellie's got to come home again. Bob can't get 
anything to do. Seems as if we'd hardly done pa3dng for 
the wedding." 

" That's bad." 

" She's expecting, so I suppose Mum and Dad will be 
let in for all that too." 

" It seems only the other day Nellie was a kid getting 
round on a scooter." 

" They grow up," Eric agreed. " It's the instalmeiit 
that's the rub. First of next month. They expect it on 
the nail too. If we hadn't that hanging over us it 
wouldn't matter about Nellie coming home. She's our 
girl, and it'll be nice to have her about the place again." 

" You'll be as proud as a cow with two tails when 
you're a grandpa." 

" I suppose so." 



THE LOTTERY 103 

They stood mutely by Eric's gate. An idea began to 
flicker in Ted's mind, and with it came a feeling of sweet- 
ness and happiness and power such as he had never ex- 
pected to feel. 

" I won't see you stuck, old man," he said. 

" That's awfully decent of you." 

" I mean it." 

They shook hands as they parted. Ted had only a few 
steps more and he took them slowly. Very warm and 
dry, he thought. The garden will need watering. Now 
he was at his gate. There was no one in sight. He stood 
for a moment looking about him. It was as if he saw the 
house he had lived in for ten years, for the first time. 
He saw that it had a mean, narrow-chested appearance. 
The roof tiles were discoloured, the woodwork needed 
painting, the crazy pavement that he had laid with such 
zeal had an unpleasant flirtatious look. The revolutionary 
thought formed in his mind. " We might leave here." 
Measured against the possibilities that lay before him, 
it looked small and mean. Even the name, " Emoh 
Ruo," seemed wrong, pokey. 

Ted was reluctant to go in. It was so long since any- 
thing of the least importance had happened between 
him and Grace, that it made him shy. He did not know 
how she would take it. Would she be all in a dither and 
no dinner ready ? He hoped so but feared not. 

He went into the hall, hung up his hat and shouted in 
a big blufl voice " Well, well, well, and where's my rich 
wife ?" 

Grace was in the kitchen dishing dinner. 

" You're late," she said. "The dinner's spoiling." 

The children were quiet but restless, anxious to leave 
the table and go out to play. " I got rid of the reporters," 
Grace said in a flat voice. Grace had character, trust her 



104 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

to handle a couple of cub reporters. She didn't seem to 
want to talk about it to her husband either. He felt 
himself, his voice, his stature dwindhng. He looked at 
her with hard eyes. " Where did she get the money," 
he wondered again, but more sharply. 

Presently they were alone. There was a pause. Grace 
began to clear the table. Ted felt that he must do some- 
thing. He took her awkwardly into his arms. " Gracie, 
aren't you pleased ?" 

She stared at him a second then her face seemed to 
fall together, a sort of spasm, something worse than tears. 
But she twitched away from him. "Yes," she said, picking 
up a pile of crockery and making for the kitchen. He 
followed her. 

" You're a dark horse, never telling me a word about 
it." 

" She's like a Red Indian," he thought. She moved 
about the kitchen with quick nervous movements. After 
a moment she answered what was in his mind : 

" I sold mother's ring and chain. A man came tp the 
door buying old gold. I bought a ticket every week till 
the money was gone." 

" Oh," he said. Grace had sold her mother's wedding 
ring to buy a lottery ticket. 

" It was my money." 

" I didn't say it wasn't." 

" No, you didn't." 

The plates chattered in her hands. She was evidently 
feeling something, and feeling it strongly. But Ted 
didn't know what. He couldn't make her out. 

She came and stood in front of him, her back to the 
littered table, her whole body taut. " I suppose you're 
wondering what I'm going to do ? I'll tell you. I'm 



THE LOTTERY 105 

going away. By myself. Before it is too late. I'm going 
tomorrow." 

He didn't seem to be taking it in. 

" Beattie will come and look after you and the children. 
She'll be glad to. It won't cost you a penny more than it 
does now," she added. 

He stood staring at her, his flacid hands hanging down, 
his face sagging. 

" Then you meant what it said in the paper, " Last 
Hope ?" he said. 

" Yes," she answered. 



106 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



SUNDAY 

John preferred to walk up from the ferry. The empty 
bus passed him on the hill, its thick purr gradually 
diminishing as if it were slowly soaking into the golden 
morning. He lifted his head to the silence. He was not 
used to it, it made him feel as if he were on a height, a 
shght, delicious giddiness between his eyes and the crown 
of his head. The sunlight seeped into him, but it was 
backed by a small cold breeze, the westerly that gave 
the day its clear brilliance, so that he was conscious of 
his body inside his clothes, oddly vulnerable, and of him- 
self as a dark stroke on the flawless autumn day. It was 
his body and not his mind that felt selfconscious, and he 
remembered that it was always like that when he returned. 
He had woken up that morning loathing everything. He 
had been repelled by yesterday's staleness, yesterday's 
cigarette butts and stacked washing up, the longstanding 
frowsiness of a man living alone in poverty, with which 
he had been shut up all night. The half-written story 
too, which was giving him so much trouble, himg Uke a 
murk in the room. His mind had shut against it in a 
nervous despair with which he was all too familiar. His 
loathing had been like a bad taste in his mouth. He had 
been glad to step out of it and turn the key upon it. 
That was why he was earlier than usual, that and because 
he hated to be expected, to see his mother waiting for 
him at the gate in her apron. 

Now he came on the house unawares. He stood and 
stared for a moment at the cottage before he went in, 
fingering again his conscious detachment hke a coin in 
his pocket. There was the picket fence, the two pine 
trees that ate all the good out of the soil, and covered 



SUNDAY 107 

the thin grass with brown needles, the wide gateless side 
entrance, dusty and rutted with the passage of the vans, 
the peehng board above it with the words "RemovaUst" 
and " General Carrier " scarcely distinguishable, the 
stables, his father's boxhke office of unpainted wood, the 
bare paddock beyond where the horses were spelled ; 
on the other side of the house, the private side, the garden, 
heavy headed dahlias, chrysanthemums rank smelling, 
the cassia bush a blob of bright yellow, a thich ball of 
flowers, little paths edged with glazed tiles and beds 
bordered with fleshy rosettes of " cups-and-saucers." 
The cottage was wide, low, drab and of weatherboard, 
the windows shut, the steps whitened almost startlingly 
in the general drabness. It looked quiet, uninhabited. 
John knew it was readied up, waiting as ever for some- 
thing that never happened, waiting for a funeral perhaps, 
for nothing less would be allowed to disturb it. That or 
Connie's wedding. A funeral was inevitable some day, 
Connie's wedding wasn't. All the life was at the back of 
the house. He went round the house on the stable side 
because he did not want to meet his father. 

He went up the two steps into the big old-fashioned 
kitchen. His mother was at the sink with the tap turned 
on, washing the vegetables, and did not hear him, but 
she felt his shadow darken the door. She turned. 

" Why, Jackie, you startled me." She dried her hands 
hastily on her apron as he kissed her. " And I wasn't 
at the gate to meet you," she added self-reproachfully. 
" You're early, love." Her voice was as flat as the felt 
slippers she wore to ease her bunions, but her worn hands 
trembled a little as she put them on her son's shoulders. 

" How are you, Mum ?" 

" I'm all right, son." 



108 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

She didn't ask any questions, but she looked them, 
searching him with her eyes. She knew that she must 
make the most of this moment when she had him to her- 
self. He rubbed his cheek against her's to escape her 
eyes. He knew that she forgave him because his cuffs 
were frayed and his tie worn to a string, but it irked 
him that she should forgive him when there was nothing 
to forgive. I forgive you, my son, for living your own 
life, because I see it is a failure and that you are suffering 
for it. I forgive you for being my mother and for loving 
me. I love you. 

It was over. Connie came in. " Hullo, Jack." She had 
washed her hair and had been drying it in the srni, a 
bath towel round her shoulders. He kissed her. The 
sewing machine stopped in the box room off the kitchen, 
and Izzie came in. " Hullo, Jack. I thought I heard 
you." Izzie was tall with faded, untidy, red hair. She had 
come years ago when the children were small, a child 
herself, as " mother's help " and now was an indissoluble 
part of the family. John kissed her too. 

" I'll make the tea," said the mother, lifting the lid 
of the range and setting the black iron kettle down on 
the bright fire. " Your father's on the side verandah." 

He went out into the sun again with Connie, while 
Izzie set out the cups. 

They walked in silence between the dahlias. Connie 
pressed back the damp hair from her high bumpy fore- 
head. She didn't care how she looked, but why should 
she ? He was her brother. You would hardly think she 
was two years younger than he, a woman still in her 
twenties. It was this that aroused his affection. He 
wanted to make contact with her. Why shouldn't they 
be frank with one another ? 

" How are things ?" he asked. 



SUNDAY 109 

" Same as usual." 

" School ?" 

" Oh, school — different every day and always the same." 
A dark discontent settled on her face. 

" Why don't you cut out of it ?" 

" What's the good ? Anything else would be the same." 

That sounded like a dead end, but he was really think- 
ing about himself. 

" You and I are alike, Connie, only I've got free and 
you haven't." 

" Have you ?" she asked dryly, looking him up and 
down. 

" Is that how you measure everything ?" he asked, 
nettled. 

She laughed, and tried to pull his arm through hers. 
It was Connie's way to be disagreable first, and friendly 
afterwards, when it was too late. The thought of defen- 
ding his position exhausted him. He would never make 
her understand that being a failure his own way was a 
sort of freedom, that he might be making a poor showing 
now, but that he was slowly gathering himself for some- 
thing else, that what he needed was nothingness, a rest 
from importunities. He had shaken off the importunities 
of his home, the loving kindness of his mother, which he 
could not resist, the dominence of his father, the per- 
petual insistance of his father's will that he, for some 
complex reason, in which perhaps being the eldest child 
had its part, could not resist at short range either. He 
had taken on other importunities that humbled and 
interrupted him, but did not penetrate his spirit in the 
same way. Creation could still come to him. He was 
free, at least, in whatever poverty and distress, to give 
his mind to that long brooding, when it hung like a drop 
over a precipice ready to fall. How could he say that to 



no THE PERSIMMON TREE 

any human being, least of all to Connie ? She didn't 
know that there was a difference between success in the 
carrying trade, and success in writing. He might just as 
well offer his father a mystic experience as a reason for 
not going into the family business. He wasn't, he told 
himself glancing at his sister, waterproof like Connie. 
She could go into herself and shut the door. She didn't 
need a desert and a cell. She would never do anything 
so jejune as to rebel — jejune was the word she would use 
— because her conception of the trap was so much more 
complete than his. No futile childish rebellion could 
liberate her. They gave up the discussion now with 
nothing said. All family conversation, it seemed, was of 
this stunted growth. 

" Hadn't you better go and see father ?" she asked 
with a trace of malice. 

John went round to the side verandah, where his father 
sat on a deck chair in the sun, behind the knotted, leafless 
screen of the wistaria, the Sunday paper strewed about 
him, a large dominant old man with jutting brows and a 
thick mouth. It was a shock to John each time he saw 
his father, to realise that he was an old man, but the 
impression, when they talked, always wore off again. 
They met quite casually now. The old man was aware 
that this was only a truce, this visit, a concession to 
family feeling. He was ready to concede something to 
family feeling even in the most strained circumstances. 
Perhaps he concealed from himself that he no longer had 
the impetus to quarrel with his son. 

Presently the mother came out with the tea in breakfast 
cups on a large papier mache tray. There were plates of 
buttered scones and rock cakes. " Don't spoil your 
dinner," she said tenderly, pressing John to eat. 



SUNDAY HI 

The old man went on reading his paper and she went 
away but soon appeared again, the father's dressing 
gown over her arm, and beckoned conspiratorially to 
John. " Let me press your suit." Obediently he took the 
dressing gown, and went into the room that used to be 
his. 

He stood beside the bed that had been made up. 
Perhaps his mother had though he would stay, or it might 
have been made for someone else. He longed to lay his 
head upon the pillow. It was clean without spot or 
blemish. He turned down a corner of the coverlet and, 
thrust his hand, which looked very dark against their 
whiteness, between the coarse, clean linen sheets. He 
was swept by an agony of longing for peace and security 
such as he had never known since he was born. The 
burden of his manhood was intolerable. The linen, its 
homeliness, its cleanness, made him aware of his mother, 
of his loneliness, that he was forever a stranger to that 
ragged edge of world where he lived, and to the rootless 
and necessitious gaiety which was not gaiety, but a 
fumbling after stimulation. He revolted against his 
portion, contacts without background, the always shifting 
pattern, long stimulation without climax, a world drained 
to its patter. He stared at his dark hand, in the trance 
to which a mind long forced, gives way. He let a pain 
for which he had no name flow through him unimpeded, 
in the widening hope, the belief of a child who has always 
been protected, that it would work out its own solution, 
that so much feeUng must be shaped to something. 

He pulled off his coat, vest, trousers. If he did not go 
out his mother would come in to look for him, and that 
would be intolerable. The kitchen greeted him with a 
sunny blast, and the warm aroma of dinner now far 
advanced. His mother had the ironing board set up 



112 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

across the window, the iron heated. " Wouldn't you like 
to go inside and sit down ?" she asked as if he were a 
visitor. No, he liked the kitchen much better. He sat 
down on the wooden kitchen chair. 

The moment of crisis was over, gone like a wave. 
\'aguely he missed it, felt himself comfortably rocked in 
the weakness of strain relaxed, about him the indulgence 
of a convalescent. He looked out of the open door at the 
shadow of a creeper on the worn bricks. That was good. 
The delicate twining pattern satisfied him, the creeper 
itself was indeterminate, the shadow completed and 
perfect. He could not lift his mind away from it. His 
mother ejaculated scraps of family news between thumps 
of the iron. " Betty's expecting again," she said. Betty 
was his brother's wife. He'd married her four months 
before their first child was bom, but everyone had for- 
gotten that now — except perhaps Vic. Already at twenty- 
four he looked like a man who had worked hard, with a 
puzzled, patient look about his forehead. That thought 
bobbed past John's mind like a cork on water, and went 
away. " She'll be able to use nearly all Bubby's things, 
she kept them so nice." 

Izzie moved from dresser to table, from table to oven. 
She made a noise whatever she touched. She interjected 
her comments into the conversation. Connie passed in 
and out, calling out remarks over her shoulder. Steam 
rose up from the wet cloth, as the mother pressed the 
.suit. Every now and then she put the iron aside and 
went to the range, shouldering Izzie away as if she were 
jealous in the preparation of the dinner. John has seen 
this muted, domestic hostility between them before. It 
seemed part of the natural rightness of everything here. 
He knew that he loved above all things the comfortable 
shabbiness of his home. It wasn't the shabbiness of 



SUNDAY 113 

shoddy things gone while they were still new, but of old 
friends who had worn a long time. Ever\'thing in the 
kitchen, he saw now, was too big for the family — the big 
boilers on the stove, the black iron kettles, the copper 
saucepans. Even the dinner plates -with their uglv 
brown pattern and criss-cross of tiny cracks were an 
out size. He had never known any others. They comforted 
him. He didn't hsten to what anyone said. 

There were steps on the path outside. " That'U be 
Gwennie," said his mother.- He might have known 
she'd have Gwen here. 

Gwen came in with an armful of tight j^ellow chrysan- 
themums. She looked just the same as when she left 
school ten years ago. She had a littie snub nose, gentie 
and confiding, with a scatter of freckles across it, and 
tight curled hair that looked as if it would crackle mider 
the hand. She wore a blue serge dress with a velvet 
collar. 

" Hullo, Gwen," he said, and got up and kissed her. It 
was as if he had kissed the chrysanthemums, for he got 
no impression but of their pungency. 

" Oh, Jack," she said in her Uttle breathless voice. 

" I brought you some chrysanths," she said kissing 
his mother. 

He saw how well they understood one another. It 
was obvious to him that Gwen, backed up by his mother, 
was waiting for him, till in some mysterious wa^", he 
"came^ound." He suspected that the old lady even 
hoped he might get into a scrape with her Uke Vic had, 
and have to marry her. Better that way than not at all. 
It would be aU for the best. He'd be roped down then, 
settled. 

Dinner was read}', served out on the kitchen table. 



114 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" Call your father, Connie." 

The old man came in, sat down at table and took up 
his knife and fork. His plate was put in front of him, 
and he began to eat at once. John's plate was filled 
with food. His mother had given him the choicest of 
eveniiiing. Connie looked at it and tittCTed " The Pro- 
digal Son," she said. There was an awkward pause. 
The old man looked angrily from side to side imder his 
heavy bro\vs which, ^Tith his lowered head, gave him 
the appearance of a bull swinging its head in wrath. 

■ I've told Vic. to come along, but he said he couldn't. 
I think he nMght have done." said the mother com- 
plainingly. 

TTie four women kept jumping up, the two men sat 
still to be waited on. Conversation was desultory, every- 
one took refuge in eating. At first John was hungry 
but he was quickly satisfied. Yet the mountain on his 
plate seemed hardly to decrease. His mother watched 
his plate. " Is 3'our potato all right, dear ?" she asked 
and when she saw him flawing, " You must eat, son." 
Her solicitude hung over him Uke an overwhelming 
bosom. He knew that this dinn er, this opportunity- to 
feed him, was the crux of the whole situation for her, 
that she had been looking forward to it for weeks, that 
eveiA" mouthful he took gave her pleasure. He struggled 
on. It seemed as if he were not eating with his mouth 
oidy, but absorbing food out of the laden air with his 
whole body. The monstrous dishes bulged at him. Used 
he to eat like this ? His stomach must have got pinched 
lately. He got through the mountain somehow. 

" I don't think I could manage any pudding. Mum," 
he said apologetically. 

" Off your pecker ?" asked his father, staring at him. 
" You wouldn't be any good in the canning business." 



SUNDAY 115 

His mother's face crinkled as if she were going to cry. 
Gwen stood on the other side of him, waiting, sohcitious, 
sad. Connie stared at him with bright, mahcious eyes. 

" It's date pudding," his mother pleaded. "Your 
favourite pudding." 

He owed her this even if only for that tranquil time 
in the kitchen. He wasn't going to do any of the other 
things she wanted, not marry Gwen, or seduce her, or 
come back home or give up any of his oddness. He'd 
have to do this for her. It was absurd, but it was real. 
He'd gone beyond her reach and she knew it. It was a 
cruel, open secret. All she could do for him now was mend 
his clothes and feed him when the opportunity offered. 
This was what her stored love had been waiting for. 

" Oh, well, if it's DATE pudding. . . . I'll have some 
of that." 

She brought him a big wedge. It had been boiled in a 
cloth, and had a damp, pale, outer rim. Yellow custard 
flowed round it. It was stiff with sweetness. It was like 
eating a pincushion. 

" Gee, it's good," he said. A faint, pleased flush rose 
on his mother's cheek bones. 

" Vic. ought to have come," she said. " Betty, don't 
feed him like this. Vic's, almost as fond of date pudding 
as you are. Have a little more, son, there's plenty out- 
side." 

" No," he said firmly, " that would spoil it. What 
you gave me was just right." 

" Now you lay down while we wash up," said his 
mother tenderly. 

He was glad to. He lay on the hard couch in the 
drawing room because the one in the dining room was 
sacred to his father. He was aware of the absurdity of 
it. The two men lying down getting over their immense 



116 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

meals. It wouldn't be absurd to his father, only natural. 
He fell into a warm, sickly, half doze. Presently Gwen 
\^ as sent in to entertain him. She chattered on and on, 
he could not even listen. His skin felt course and yeUow, 
his mind leaden. The hours were like smooth, water-worn 
stones. 

It was five o'clock. Down in the wooden office the 
telephone shrilled and shrilled. It was Gwen who went 
down to answer it, but only after they had argued as to 
whether it ought to be answered at all. She came back 
waving her arms. " It's for Jack," she called in the 
breathless voice that irritated him. 

He hunched over the phone with a furtive air. The 
phone in the office always gave him that guilty feeling. 
It was a girl's voice with a shght nag in it. He stopped 
its flow. 

" That'll be great. Coral. Of course jou can count on 
me." He could not keep the rehef out of his voice. 

" Soimds as if I were rescuing you from the wilds of 
the family bosom." 

He laughed to evade answering her, hating himself. 

" I'll be with you in an hour." 

" I can't promise you an}d:hing but a sardine and a 
biscuit." 

He went back to the house. They raised enquiring 
faces. 

" I've got to go back to town straight away." He 
didn't want to go, but, well, yes, it was a party of sorts, 
but he was going to see an editor there, a man who could 
help him. The words were dr^- in his mouth, he could 
hardly get them out. 

His mother wailed, " I had such a nice tea for you." 

" It's rotten luck," he mumbled. His one thought 
was to get away. 



SUNDAY 117 

" I think you are hateful. Poor mother," said Connie 
in a low voice. There was no longer malice in her eyes, 
but contempt. The mother did not hear, she had gone 
out to the kitchen. John did not answer. What was the 
use when he would be gone in a few minutes ? 

His mother came back with a cardboard box. She 
acquiesced in his going with the heavy resignation that 
she always showed her menfolk. 

" I've put you up some things," she said. " Some 
tarts and cakes." 

He took the box, distressed and wretched. He couldn't 
arrive at Coral's flat with the thing. He'd have to dump 
it somewhere. He kissed each of the women. Gwen's 
mouth flowered up softly under his. He felt himself 
caught in a web, silken, clinging. He put her aside 
roughly. The next moment he was running downhill 
towards the ferry, towards freedom, his shoulders hunched 
up, shabby, ungainly. 



118 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



THE NEW DRESS 



The first thing Mavis saw' when she woke was the new 
dress hanging from the disused gas bracket. Her heart 
turned over with joy and she jumped out of bed to make 
sure that it was a fine day. By leaning out of the window 
and twisting her neck she could see a strip of sky, now the 
cool, bloomy blue of early morning. The air itself seemed 
conscious of a holiday and the very garbage tins in the 
lane below looked as if they were grouped for a still life. 
It was half past five, so there was still a long time to wait 
before she could put on the dress and go out to meet 
Lennie. Four hours, half a working day. She couldn't 
possibly sleep any more. All night she had slept lightly 
because she missed the anodyne of fatigue to which in 
the last two years her body had become accustomed. 
To go to bed not tired was from habit unsatisfactory. 
Without a weight against it the door of sleep kept flying 
open. 

Even the milkman hadn't been, so she couldn't have 
a cup of tea. She sat on the bed, her chin on her drawn 
up knees, looking, in the skimpy cotton nightdress, 
much less than seventeen. The dress drew her thoughts 
like a magnet. It really was lovely, the loveliest, the first 
lovely thing, that she had had. Her glance caressed the 
full skirt, the shirred waist, the little close fitting bodice 
with its fischue collar, the bow of peach coloured velvet 
with long ends falling almost to the hem. But the colour 
was best of all. The printed silk showed a bright, rich 
confusion, damson coloured ovals slid over a background 
of peach with touches of rose and leaf green, and flecks 
of black, which gave the whole thing character. You 



THE NEW DRESS 119 

wouldn't know it was only vegetable silk unless you were 
an expert. It was almost too good. She wouldn't mind 
just keeping it here and gloating over it. 

Pa5dng for the dress had been rather a struggle. She 
had made the first payment with the ten shillings Gran 
had sent her for her birthday. Then every week it had 
taken its toll. The money had had to come out some- 
where, but she had never flinched. It was the waiting, 
not the scraping, that had gone hard with her. On 
Friday, rushing out in the tea break — they didn't get 
paid till the afternoon — she had triumphantly paid the 
last two instalments and got the frock out of the lay-by. 
This left her, after she had paid her rent and allowed 
enough for fares, the milkman and the baker, exactly 
one and eightpence. It was now only five days to pay 
day, and Lennie was paying everything today. That 
made four days. But over the head of the girl alone there 
always hangs the sword of emergencies. 

Still she had the dress. That was everything. It had 
been crucial to have it for this week-end. She was going 
out for the day with Lennie, and then he was taking her 
home to have tea with his Auntie. Lennie had suggested 
this before, but Mavis had always found some excuse. 
Lennie, who like herself, had lost his parents, lived with 
his Auntie. She was a widow and owned the cottage 
they lived in. In Mavis's eyes such stability spelt wealth 
and the determination not to show herself before critical 
eyes until she could do Lennie credit was sunk like a 
caisson into her obstinate little heart. No dress, no Auntie. 
This, even though she knew that when a boy took his 
girl home it was almost as good as an understanding. 
And an understanding didn't fall far short of an engage- 
ment, which was, in Mavis's circle, the very pinnacle of 
achievement. Marriage itself was generally a retreat 



120 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

from glory into the struggle to make ends meet and bring 
up children on the hire purchase system. 

The dress wasn't, except secondarily, for Lennie. 
Mavis knew that Lennie 'liked' her and that was quite 
enough for the present. Lennie was nice. He was a clerk 
in a city office. They had met at the roller skating and 
had taken a fancy to one another in the first five minutes. 

Mavis worked at the perfumery counter in the bargain 
basement of a chain store. She liked it quite well though 
there were disadvantages like standing all day and not 
getting enough air to breathe. She thought the perfumery 
the best counter to be at, because most of the customers 
were girls like herself, hunting for a rainbow in the 
jungle. 

She got on well with the other girls. There were two 
others in her sub-section, Gladys who was twenty and a 
ball of style, and Molly, fat, with a bad complexion 
and an all enveloping family hfe. Gladys was the leader. 
She knew the world. 

Gladys approved of the dress, when Ma\ds took it 
out of its tissue paper in the dressing room on Friday 
night to exhibit it. She tried it against her own black 
curls and apricot skin mth approbation, and she em- 
bellished the occasion with a lecture. "Don't let him 
put one over you, kiddy. You're just the soft sort they 
try it on." Someone had put it over Gladys a couple 
of years before and having come out on the other side 
she now felt that she knew all she needed to know about 
life. Mavis said no, she wouldn't, and wanted to get the 
dress back into its wrappings. It wasn't that sort of dress. 
It was for herself. It wasn't a lure, it was a protection. 
But she couldn't have said that any more than they 
could have understood it. It was a blind impulse dis- 
solved in emotion. 



THK NEW DRESS 121 

Now it was time to dress, now it was time to go. But 
the waiting for this long desired moment had been too 
long, too empty. It had left its trace, a blank, flat spot 
in the happy excitement of her mind. 

The day was fine but heavy with heat, the sky of a 
hazy blue that might turn to cloud, the light itself seemed 
pigmented and fell on white walls with a coppery hue. 
The city had a deserted, holiday look and already at 
ten o'clock there were papers and other debris drifting 
in the streets. Mavis and Lennie were going to Bobbin 
Head. It meant first a train and then a bus. In the 
electric train it was too noisy to talk but they smiled at 
one another a lot. Everything was lovely except that 
Lennie hadn't responded spontaneously to the new dress. 
It was only in answer to a leading question that he said 
it was very nice. They had what was to be the best 
moment of the day in the crowded bus going out to the 
picnic grounds. Pressed together in the crush they 
looked at one another from a range of a few inches. They 
felt intimate and alone. Mavis was sweet. Lennie was 
nice. They shared a spurt of happiness. 

They had lunch as soon as they arrived, although it 
was early, because they were hungry. Auntie had pre- 
pared it for them — egg sandwiches, sausage rolls, fruit 
and cake, with tea — tasting persistently of ink — in a 
battered thermos. 

Afterwards, Lennie suggested that they should go out 
in a boat on the river but Mavis refused and he could 
not persuade her. She wasn't going to risk the new dress 
in a boat. This was a blow to Lennie, because as he had 
planned the day over and over in his mind, and the boat 
was an essential part. It would be cool on the water. 
They could row for a bit, and then drift. They'd get out 
of the crowd. He put it to Mavis all over again, but she 



122 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

shook her head obstinately. What would they do ? 
They couldn't sit here with children playing ball all over 
them. Would she come for a walk ? Lennie knew that 
he wasn't being very pleasant about the change in his 
plans. He wanted to be magnaminous but he did feel 
sore. 

" I don't want to get hot," said Mavis primly. 

They started to walk towards the bushy slopes at the 
far side of the picnic ground, doggedly through the 
broiling midday sun, a couple of yards apart. The new 
dress WcLs spoiling everything, Lennie thought sullenly. 
He thought it was hideous an5rway, bright and ugly. It 
made Mavis look just like other girls, and she wasn't. 
And, worst of all, she'd put on. a new manner with it. 
He was damned if he liked playing second fiddle to a 
bit of rag. 

It wasn't much cooler in the bush, the trees cast Uttle 
shade, the earth was parched and dusty. They walked 
on and on rather dolefully, looking for a place to sit. 
Whenever Lennie suggested a place Mavis said it was 
too sunny or too dusty. She was aware of dark moons 
of moisture staining the silk under her arms. She lad- 
dered her stocking on some prickly undergrowth, and 
was ready to cry. Then Lennie found quite a nice place 
down near the river with a fallen log in the shade. He 
spread his handkerchief on the ground and Mavis con- 
sented to sit on it, her back to the log. He sat beside her 
and tried to put his arm around her, but it was too hot 
and awkward. He took her Uttle fist in his hand, tried to 
untwine the fingers, but when he felt her resistance he 
put it back in her lap. The dry earth ticked with little 
unseen insects. There was no other sound. The picnic 
ground was as far away as the sky. 



THE NEW DRESS 123 

They talked in a desultory way and presently Lennie 
lay down and put his head in her lap. She Hked that. 
She pressed her fingers over his eyes and he smiled at her 
with his lips. This was better. The situation was knitting 
together. Lennie was content. If the chaps at the office 
could see him now they'd probably think him a terrible 
sissy. This wasn't their idea of spending a holiday, he 
could bet. They were rocked together in the cradle of 
the warm afternoon. They grew drowsy and did not re- 
sist. Soon they were asleep. 

It may have been the thunder that woke them or the 
first drops of rain splashing on their faces. They woke 
simultaneously to a stormy light and a swish of advan- 
cing wind. 

" We'd better get," said Lennie, jumping up and pulling 
Mavis after him by the hand. As they picked up their 
hats and the old suitcase they grinned rather sheepishly 
at each other. The joke was on them falling asleep like 
that, but they didn't mean to tell anyone. 

They had nearly reached the edge of the bush before 
the rain caught them up. The trees offered little shelter, 
it was no good staying there to get wet. As they bolted 
across the open for the picnic sheds, it came down in a 
deluge. Every shelter was crowded already with boys 
and girls and family parties, but the nearest group made 
room cheerfully for Lennie and Mavis. Everyone was in 
crazy spirits and the rain had broken down all the taboos. 
The many separate picnics had become one large party. 
Stragglers were greeted with cheers, facetious advice 
and brdad innuendoes. The wags were busy. Presently 
someone began to sing a popular song and the contagion 
spread from island to island, community singing in the 
rain. Lennie sang loudly, his arm round Mavis's shoul- 
ders, swinging her to the rhythm. Mavis was silent. She 



124 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

was wondering miserably what the rain had done to her 
dress. This worry made her feel very lonely. She twisted 
this way and that but could see nothing, they were all 
packed so tightly. She could only feel it, sodden against 
her legs. 

It was not until they reached the railway station that 
she was able to assess the damage. The colours had run 
badly, and the skirt as it dried was shrinking. It was 
above her knees. It looked ridiculous and awful. It 
would never be the same. She looked at Lennie, her 
face hard with tragedy. He didn't know what to say in 
this purely feminine dilemma. 

" It'll be all right when it's dry," he mumbled. She 
turned away. " Auntie'll iron it for you." As if that 
would be any good. 

The train drew up and he bustled her in to get seats. 

" I'm not going," she thrust at him as the train started. 

" What ?" 

" I'm not going." 

" Not going where ?" he asked stupidly. 

" To your Auntie's. I can't now." 

He stared at her incredulously. " Why not ?" 

" I couldn't possibly, looking Hke this." 

" You look all right. Don't be a chump." 

"I'm not going." 

He knew that she meant it. He thought glumly of 
how he had dragooned his good natured, slatternly aunt 
into sprucing up the house, and of the tea she had pro- 
mised to prepare, for them. 

" You can't let me down like this." 

She shot him a glance that seemed to put all the blame 
on him. It couldn't only be the dress, she had been 
difficult all day. 



THE NEW DRESS 125 

He put his mouth to her ear in the ratthng train. 

" Did I do anything to upset you, Mavis ?" 

" No." 

" Are you angry with me ?" 

She shook her head wearily. Why couldn't he leave 
her alone ? 

" Look here," he said, " your beastly dress has spoiled 
our day. You were crazy to wear it to a picnic anyway. 
It serves you right." 

At her look of anguish his anger died. He tried to put 
his arm round her. " Come home with me, lovie. Auntie 
and I have got everything so nice for you." 

He didn't understand. The fiction supplements always 
said that men didn't understand, and it was quite true. 
It was no good offering her love in place of a spoiled 
dress. 

She slumped down in her corner as far from him as 
she could get, and he sat looking out of the window, his 
face set, feeling more confused than angry. He'd never 
get the hang of Mavis. Girls were queer. 

The week stretched miserably before Mavis. Four 
fourpenny lunches, a penny for the gas, and threepence 
for everything else. She wouldn't be able to go out, and 
Lennie wasn't likely to take her after this. Perhaps 
she'd never see him again. She'd put the dress between 
them and it had become a mountain. She wanted to 
say to him out of the new wisdom that was beginning 
to grow in her heart : " It has got to be like this now, 
but it will be all right soon. Be patient, Lennie, I'm 
not ready for you yet, but it won't be long now." 

A few minutes later they parted in what looked like 
offended silence, but was only the natural confusion of 
their young hearts. 



126 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



HABIT 



Miss Jessie Biden was singing in a high plangent voice 
as she made the beds. It was a form of self-expression 
she allowed herself only when there were no guests in 
the house, and she mingled the hjnnns and sentimental 
songs of her girlhood with a fine impartiality. She made 
the beds with precision, drawing the much washed mar- 
cella quilts, with spikey fringes, up over the pillows so 
that the black iron bedsteads had an air of humihty and 
self-respect. The sheets, though not fine, smelt amiably 
of grass, and the blankets were honest, if a little hard 
with much laundering. With the mosquito nets hanging 
from a hoop which in its turn, was suspended from a 
cup hook screwed into the wooden ceiling, the beds looked 
like virtuous but homely brides. 

Jessie stopped singing for a minute as she pulled the 
green hoUand blind to the exact middle of the window, 
and surveyed the room to see if aU were in order. She 
had very strict notions about the exact degree of cir- 
cumspection to which paying guests were entitled. 
Yesterday everything washable in the rooms had been 
washed, the floor, the woodwork, the heavy florid china 
on the rather frail, varnished wooden washstands. The 
rooms smelled of soap, linoleum poUsh and wood. The 
lace curtains were stiff with starch. Indeed, there was 
more starch than curtain, and without it they would 
have been draggled and pitiful wisps. 

As every door in the house was open and it was a light 
wooden shell of a place, old as Australian houses go and 
dried by many summers, Jessie could quite comfortably 
talk to Catherine, who was cooking in the kitchen from 
wherever she happened to be working. But presently 



HABIT 127 

the rooms finished, she came to stand in the kitchen 
doorway with a Hst of the guests they were expecting 
for Easter, in her hand. 

The kitchen was a pleasant room looking on to the 
old orchard, a row of persimmon trees heavy with pointed 
fruit turning golden in the early autumn, squat, round, 
guava bushes, their plump, red-coronetted fruit hidden 
in their glossy dark leaves, several plum and peach trees, 
one old wide-spreading apple tree and a breakwind of 
loquats and quinces. Beyond again was the bush, blue- 
green, shimmering a little in the morning sunshine. 

Catherine Biden, too, was pleasant, and in keeping 
with the warm autumn landscape. Her red-gold hair, 
fine, heavy and straight, made a big bun on her plump 
white neck, her milky skin was impervious to the sun 
and her arms, on which her blue print sleeves were rolled 
up, were really beautiful. In the parlance of the neigh- 
bours, neither of the sisters would see forty again, which 
somehow sounded duller and more depressing than to say 
that Catherine was forty-two and Jessie forty-six. 

" I'm putting the Adamses in the best room," Jessie 
was saying, " because they don't mind sharing a bed. 
And Miss Dickens and her friend in the room with the 
chest of drawers. Mrs. Holies says she must have a room 
to herself, so it will have to be the httle one. The 
Thompsons and Miss George'll sleep on the verandah 
and dress together in the other room. The old lady and 
her niece next the dining room. That leaves only the 
verandah room this side, for Mr. Campbell." 

" It's quite all right while the weather is cool," said 
Catherine, in her placid way, rolling dough. 

Jessie looked at her list with disfavour. "We know 
everyone but Mr. Campbell. It's rather awkward having 
just one man and so many women." 



128 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" Perhaps he'll like it," Catherine suggested. 

" I don't think so. His name's Angus. He's probably 
a man's man." 

" Oh, if he's as Scotch as all that he won't mind. He'll 
fish all the time." 

" Well, all I hope is he doesn't take fright and leave us 
with an empty room." The Easter season was so short, 
they couldn't afford an empty room. 

" I hope," said Catherine, " we don't get a name for 
having only women. We do get more teach^ers every 
year and fewer men, don't we ?" 

" Yes, we do. I think we'd better word the adver- 
tisement differently." 

She sighed. Jessie, growing stout, with high cheek 
bones and a red skin, was the romantic one. She had 
always taken more kindly to this boarding house business 
than Catherine, because of its infinite possibUites — ^new 
people, new chances of excitement and romance. Al- 
though perhaps she no longer thought of romance, the 
habit of expecting something to happen remained with 
her. 

Their father had married late. This house beside the 
lagoon had come to him with his wife and he had spent 
his long retirement in it, ministered to b}- his daughters. 
\\'hen he and his pension had died together, he had not, 
somehow, been able to leave them anything but the house, 
the small orchard and the lovely raggedy slope of \vild 
garden rimning down to the water. Jessie, in a mood of 
tragic daring, advertised accommodation for holiday 
guests, carefully coppng other advertisements she found 
in the paper. This expedient would, they hoped, tide 
them over. That was twelve years ago. A makeshift 
had become a permanency. In time, with the instrumen- 
tahty of the local carpenter, they had added a couple of 



HABIT 129 

rooms and put up some almost paper-thin partitions. It 
looked as if they had developed the thing as far as they 
could. 

They both still looked on their home as something 
different from their guest house. It was vested in that 
company of lares and penates now in bondage to mammon, 
but some day to be released. " Our good things," the 
sisters called them, the original furniture of the house, 
the bits and pieces that their mother had cherished. The 
big brass bed that had been their parents' was still in the 
best bedroom, though the cedar chest of drawers with 
pearl buttons sunk in its knobs and the marble topped 
washstand had gone to raise the tone of other rooms. 
The dining room was very much as it had always been. 
The sideboard with the mirrors and carved doors took up 
the best part of one wall, and set out on it was the old 
lady's brightly polished but now unused silver coffee 
service. The harmonium, with its faded puce silk, filled 
an inconvenient amount of room by the window. The 
old people's enlarged portraits, an ancient, elaborate 
worktable with dozens of little compartments, and other 
intimate treasures not meant for paying guests, but 
impossible to move out of their way, gave the room a 
genteel but overcrowded appearance. In the dining room 
in the off season it was almost as if nothing had ever 
happened. 

In twelve years Jessie's hopefulness had worn a little 
thin and Catherine's gentle placid nature had become 
streaked with discontent, as marble is veined with black. 
Sometinles she asked herself where it was aU leading, 
what would happen to them by and by and if this was 
all life had in store ? She began in a slow blind way to 
feel cheated, and to realise how meaningless was the 
pattern of the years with their alternations of rush and 

El 



130 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Stagnation, of too much work and too little money. Of 
their darker pre-occupations the sisters did not speak to 
one another. In self defence they looked back rather 
than forward. 

The guests began to arrive at lunch time. Angus Camp- 
bell was the last to come, by the late train, long after 
dark. Catherine went up to the bus stop with a lantern 
to meet him. He saw her for the first time with the 
light thrown upward on her broad fair face, and He 
thought how kind and simple and good she looked. His 
tired heart hfted, and he felt reassured. 

Undressing in the small stuffy room they shared, 
next to the kitchen, Jessie asked her sister, " Do you 
think he'll fit in all right ?" 

" I think so," Catherine answered. "He seems a nice, 
quiet man." 

" Young ?" asked Jessie with the last flicker of interest 
in her tired body. 

" About our age." 

" Oh well . . . ." 

They kissed one another good-night as they had every 
night since they were children, and lay down side by 
side to sleep. 

The shell of a house was packed with sleeping people, 
all known and all strangers. 

Angus Campbell evidently did not find his position of 
solitary man very trying, for on Easter Monday he asked, 
rather diffidently, if he might stay another week. He 
was taking his annual holidays. When the other guests 
departed, he remained. One week grew into two, then 
he had to return to Sydney. 

He was a tall, gaunt, slightly stooped man with a 
weather-beaten complexion — the kind of Scots com- 



HABIT 131 

plexion that manages to look weather beaten even in a 
city office — and a pair of clear, understanding, friendly, 
hazel eyes. His manner was very quiet cind at first he 
seemed rather a negligible and uninteresting man. But 
presently you discovered in him a steadfast quality that 
was very likeable. You missed him when he went away. 

When he was alone with the sisters, life settled in- 
evitably into a more intimate rhythm. They ate their 
meals together on a rickety table on the verandah, where 
they could look over the garden to the lagoon. He 
would not let the sisters chop wood or do the heavy 
outdoor work that they were accustomed to, and he even 
came into the kitchen and helped Jessie wash up while 
Catherine put away. He did it so simply and naturedly 
that it seemed right and natural to them. 

One day he began digging in the garden, and, from 
taking up the potatoes they wanted, went on to other 
things. " You oughtn't to be doing this," Jessie said. 
" It's your hoUday." 

" You don't know how I enjoy it," he answered, and 
his eyes, travelling over the upturned loamy earth to the 
blazing persimmon trees and the bush beyond, had in 
them a look of love and longing. She knew that he 
spoke the truth. 

He went out fishing and brought back strings of fish 
for their supper with pride and gusto, and then had to 
watch Catherine cook them. There seemed to be some- 
thing special about Catherine cooking the fish he caught. 

He helped Catherine pick fruit for jam and she was 
aware that for all he was thin and stooped he was much 
stronger than she, and it gave her a curious, pleased 
feeling. Jessie, alone in the house, could hear their voices 
in the orchard, a httle rarefied and idealised, in the still 
warm air. 



132 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

One day it rained, great gusts of tbick fine rain that 
blotted out the lagoon, and Angus, kept in, took his 
book on to the verandah. Passing to and fro doing the 
work, Cartherine saw that he was not reading, but looking 
out into the rain. Then he went and stood by the verandah 
rail for a long time. She came and stood beside him. 

He said, " If you listen you can just hear the rain on 
the grass and among the leaves — ^and smell the earth. 
It's good, isn't it ? The trees are more beautiful looming 
through the mist — ^the shape of them." Marvelling, she 
saw that he was half in love with the beauty that she 
had lived with all her life. 

A magpie flew through the rain, calling. He laid his 
hand on her shoulder and she was a httle shaken by that 
warm and friendly touch. The eyes he turned on her 
still held the reflection of a mystery she had not seen. 

Angus Campbell told them about himself. He was a 
clerk in a secure job and for years he had looked after 
his invahd mother, coming home from the office to sit 
with her, getting up in the night to tend her, his money 
going in doctor's biUs. She had often been querulous 
and exacting. " The pain and the tedium were so hard 
for her to bear, and there was so little I could do for her. 
Of course I remember her ver\- different No one could 
have had a better mother. She was ver\" ambitious for 
me, and made great sacrifices when I was a boy, so that 
I shoiild have a good education and get on. But I never 
did — ^not ver^" far." It was e^idoit that he thought he 
owed her something for that disappointment. Two months 
ago she had died and he missed her bitterh-. ' She had 
become my child." he said. He felt, too, the cruelt]k- of 
her hfe that had been hard and unsatisfied, and had ended 
in pain. Now there was no hope of ever retrie\-ine it. 



HABIT 133 

" He is very good," said Jessie to her sister when 
they were alone that night. 

" And kind," said Catherine. " The kindest man I've 
ever known." 

Neither of them thought how few men they'd known. 

Jessie raised herself on her elbow to look at Catherine 
as she slept in the faint moonUght, and thought how 
comely she was, sweet and wholesome. 

When Angus had, at last, to go, he said he would be 
back for the week-end. They kissed him. He was to 
arrive on the Friday by the late train again, and Catherine 
prepared supper for him before the fire, for it was getting 
cold now. She took the silver coffee pot, the sacred 
silver coffee pot that had been their mother's, and put 
it to warm above the kitchen stove. She cast a half 
defiant glance at Jessie as she did so, but Jessie went and 
took the silver sugar bowl too, and the cream jug, filled 
them, and set them on the table. 

Angus asked Catherine to go out in the boat with him 
or to go walking, and then he paid Jessie some little 
attention. But they both knew. One Simday, perhaps 
it was the fourth week-end he had come, the autumn 
was now far advanced, he and Catherine went for a long 
walk and he asked her to marry him. He took her in 
his arms and kissed her. She felt very strange, for she 
had never been kissed before, not by a man who was 
in love with her. They walked home hand in hand as if 
they were still very young, and when Catherine saw 
Jessie waving to them from the verandah she stood still 
and the unaccountable tears began to flow down her 
cheeks. 

They said, everybody said, that there was no reason 
why they should wait, meaning they had better hurry 
up. The wedding was fixed for three months ahead. 



134 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

It was a curious three months for Catherine. When 
Angus came for the week-end they would not let him 
pay his board, and that made a little awkwardness. 
Even calling him Angus seemed a trifle strange. He did 
not come every week-end now. Once he said, " It seems 
wrong to take you away from all this beauty and freedom 
and shut you up in a little suburban house among a lot 
of other little houses just the same. Do you think 
you'll fret, my darling ?" 

Catherine had never thought very much about the 
beauties of nature. So she just shook her head where it 
rested against his shoulder. Still, her heart sank a little 
when she saw his house with its small windows, dark 
stuff hangings and many souvenirs of the late Mrs. Camp- 
bell. It seemed as if sickness and death had not yet been 
exorcised from it. 

Catherine and Jessie sewed the trousseau. "We must 
be sensible," they said to one another, and bought good 
stout cambric and flannelettes, though each secretly 
hankered after the pretty and the foolish. Catherine could 
not quite forget that she was going to be a middle aged 
bride, and that that was just a little ridiculous. Neigh- 
bours, meaning to be kind, teased her about her wedding 
and were coy, sly and romantic in a heavy way, so that 
she felt abashed. 

A subtle difference had taken place in the relationship 
of the sisters. Jessie felt a new tenderness for Catherine. 
She was the younger sister who was going to be married. 
Jessie's heart burned with love and protectiveness. She 
longed, she didn't know why, to protect Catherine, to 
do things for her. " Leave that to me," she would say 
when she saw Catherine go to clean the stove or perform 
some other dirty job. " You must take care of your 
hands now." 



HABIT 135 

But Catherine always insisted on doing the roughest 
work. " He's not marrying me for my beauty," she 
laughed. 

Catherine too thought more of her sister and of how 
good and unselfish she was, and her little peculiarities 
that once rather irritated her, now almost brought the 
tears to her eyes. One night she broached what was 
always on her mind. 

" What will you do when I've gone ?" she asked in a 
low voice. 

" I'll get Ivy Thomas to help me in the busy times," 
Jessie answered in a matter of fact voice, " and in between, 
I'll manage." 

" But it will be lonely," said Catherine weakly. 

Jessie cast a reproachful glance at her. "I'll manage," 
she said. 

Catherine was no longer discontented and weighed 
down with a sense of futility. Another emotion had taken 
its place, something very like homesickness. 

As she did her jobs about the place she thought now, 
"It is for the last time," and there was a little pain 
about her heart. She looked at her world with new eyes. 
Angus's eyes perhaps. Going down to the fowlyard in 
the early morning with the bucket of steaming bran and 
pollard mash, she would look at the misty trees and the 
water like blue silk under the milk-pale sky ; at the 
burning autumn colours of the persimmon trees, and the 
delicate frosty grass, and her heart would tremble with 
its loveliness. 

One evening, coming in with the last basket of plums 
— ripe damsons with a thick blue bloom upon them — 
she stopped to rest, her back to the stormy sunset, and 
she saw thin, blue smoke like tulle winding among the 
quiet trees where a neighbour was burning leaves. She 



136 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

thought that she would remember this all her life. Pick- 
ing nasturtiums under the old apple tree she laid her 
cheek for a moment against the rough silvery bark, and 
closed her eyes. " My beloved old friend," she thought 
but without words, " I am leaving you for a man I 
scarcely know." 

It would seem as if the exaltation of being loved, of 
that one ripe and golden Sunday when she thought she 
could love too, had become detached from its object and 
centred now about her home. She even became aware 
of a rhythm in her daily work. Objects were dear because 
her hands were accustomed to them from childhood. 
And now life had to be imagined without them. 

" Wherever I am, I shall have to grow old," she 
she thought, " and it would be better to grow old here 
where everything is kind and open, than in a strange 
place." It was as if the bogey she had feared, meaning- 
less old age, had revealed itself a friend at the last 
moment, too late. 

Jessie lit the porcelain lamp with the green shade and 
set it in the middle of the table among the litter of 
the sewing. She stood adjusting the wick, her face in 
shadow, and said : 

" We'll have to have a serious talk about the silver 
and things, Cathy. We'd better settle it to-night 
before we get too busy." 

" What about them ?" Catherine asked, biting off a 
thread. 

" You must have your share. We'll have to divide 
them between us." Jessie's voice was quite steady and 
her tone matter of fact. 

" Oh, no," cried Catherine, with a sharp note of passion 
in her voice, " I don't want to take anything away." 



HABIT 137 

" They are as much yours as mine." 

" They belong here." 

" They belong to both of us, and I'm not going to have 
you go away empty handed." 

" But, Jessie, I'll come back often. The house wouldn't 
seem the same without mother's things. Don't talk as 
if I were going away for ever." 

" Of course you'll come back, but it won't be the same. 
You'll have a house of your own." 

" It won't be the same," echoed Catherine very low. 

" I specially want you to have mother's rings. I've 
always wanted you to wear them. You've got such pretty 
hands and now you won't have to work so hard. . . . 
and the pendant. Father gave that to mother for a 
wedding present so as you're the one getting married it 
is only fit you should wear it on your wedding day too. 
I'll have the cameos. I'm sort of used to them. And the 
cat's eye brooch that I always thought we ought to have 
given Cousin Ella when mother died." Jessie drew a 
rather difficult breath. 

" You're robbing yourself," said Catherine, " giving 
me all the best. You're the eldest daughter." 

" That has nothing to do with it. We must think of 
what is suitable. I think you ought to have the silver 
coffee things. They've seemed specially yours since that 
night — ^you remember — when Angus came. Perhaps they 
helped . . . ." 

Catherine made a funny little noise. 

" I dgn't want the silver coffee set." 

" Yes, you do. They're heeps too fine for guests. 
They're good. What fair puzzles me is the work table. 
You ought to have it because after all I suppose I'll be 
keeping all the big furniture, but this room wouldn't 
be the same without it." 



138 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" No," cried Catherine. "Oh, Jessie, no. Not the work 
table. I couldn't bear it." And she put her head down 
among the white madapolam and began to cry, a wild, 
desperate weeping. 

" Cathy, darhng, what is it ? Hush, Petie, hush. 
We'll do everything just as you want." 

" I won't strip our home. I won't." 

" No, darling, no, but you'll want some of your own 
friendly things with you." 

Jessie was crying a little too, but not wildly. " You're 
overwrought and tired. I've let you do too much." 
Her heart was painfully full of tenderness for her sister. 

Catherine's sobs grew less at last, and she said in a 
little gasping, exhausted voice. " I can't do it." 

" I won't make you. It can stay here in its old place 
and you can see it when you come on a visit." 

" I mean I can't get marired and go away. It's harder 
than anything is worth." 

Jessie was agast. They argued long and confusedly. 
Once Catherine said : " I wish it had been you, Jessie." 

Jessie drew away. " You don't think that I . . . ." 

" No, dear, only on general grounds. You'd have made 
such a good wife and," with a painful little smile, " you 
were always the romantic one." 

" Not now," said Jessie staunchly. 

" I'll write to Angus now, tonight," Catherine declared. 

She wanted to be rid of this intolerable burden at once, 
although Jessie begged her to sleep on it. Neither of them 
had considered Angus, nor did they now. She got out 
the bottle of ink, and the pen with the cherry wood 
handle, which they shared, and began the letter. She^ 
was stiff and inarticulate on paper, and couldn't hope to 
make him understand. It was a miserable, hopeless task 
but she had to go through with it. 



HABIT 139 

While she bent over the letter, Jessie went out into 
the kitchen and relit the fire. She took the silver coffee 
pot, the sugar basin and the cream jug, and set them out 
on the tray with the best worked traycloth. From the 
cake tin she selected the fairest of the little cakes that 
had been made for the afternoon tea of guests arriving 
tomorrow. Stinting nothing, she prepared their supper. 
When she heard Catherine sealing the letter, thumping 
the flap down with her fist to make the cheap gum stick, 
she carried in the tray. 

Although she felt sick with crying, Catherine drank 
her coffee and ate a cake. The sisters smiled at one 
another with shaking lips and stiff redened eyelids. 

" He won't come again now," said Jessie regretfully, 
but each added in her heart, " He was a stranger, after 
all." 



140 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



THE DRESSMAKER 

Miss Simkins arrived early at the Bowker s to do her 
day's sewing. She had to come earl}- because, of course, 
everyone wanted their full eight hours, and liked her to 
be well out of the way and the house tidied up before 
their menfolk came home in the evening. It was just half- 
past eight when she open the Bowker's gate, and there 
was Mrs, Bowker waiting for her on the verandah. " \Miy. 
Miss Simkins," she called, " I thought you had missed the 
train. I've ever\'thing ready." 

The kitchen table had been carried out on to the glassed- 
in verandah, the machine was open, the work-basket 
beside it. Mrs. Bowker made rather a merit of being 
pimctual, and having everything ready. This stuck a 
httle in Miss Simians' throat, because Mrs. Bowker 
certainly profited by her punctuahty, in that it wrung 
the maximum of labour out of Miss Simkins. Therefore 
the merit, if any, weis hers and not Mrs. Bowkers". It 
was Mrs. Bowker who received, and she who gave, and 
yet Mrs. Bowker always said " I've everything ready 
for j'ou," as if she had prepared a special treat. 

Miss Simkins did not see verji- much of hfe but what 
she saw she inspected very closely and she kept an exact 
debit and credit account between herself and hfe. She 
always observed her employers' conduct and utterences 
minutely ^\ith a ^iew to keeping this statement up-to- 
date. She was, she felt, one of hfe's principal creditors. 

These thoughts were habitual, automatic, and, of course, 
vmvoiced. She merely took off her hat, which collapsed 
into immediate shapelessness, ga^-e two pokes to her 
hair and sat down to the work-table. From her suitcase 
she produced a sheaf of battered fashion journals. 



THE DRESSMAKER 141 

" Edna," called Mrs. Bowker. " Edna !" Her voice 
shot up like a jack-in-the-box, surprisingly shrill for her 
comfortable bulk. " You'd better get on with the school 
tunic for Joyce, while Miss Bowker and I look at the 
patterns," she said. 

Edna Bowker came in, a tall, slight girl, with very red 
hair and a very white skin, a very small mouth and very 
large eyes. She had a lanquid air as if even her eyelashes 
were a burden. (A young man had told her that she was 
like a hesitation waltz, so she acquired the habit of 
hesitating more and more even in the morning.) 

" Good morning. Miss Simkins," she said politely. 

A little warmth crept into the cold, glassy room. A 
faint excitement beat up from the fashion books. 
Miss Simkins cut boldly into the blue serge, making cold 
metallic noises with the scissors, and putting pins in her 
mouth. " It's all collars and sleeves this year," she 
announced through them. 

" I don't like them too exaggerated," said Mrs. Bowker. 

" Miss Bowker has a long neck. She can stand it." 

" She's got the fashionable figure. I'll say that for 
her." 

" She has so." 

" I'm too thin," announced Edna. " I'd do anything 
to put on weight, but I can't." 

" Oh, would she ?" thought Miss Simkins. 

" There's a pretty one on page 6. I made it for a client 
at Strathfield last week. She was delighted with it. 
Very wealthy people." 

" That's the one I like." 

" But it's too old for you." 

" Oh, no, mother, I look simply poisonous in girlish 
clothes. It's my height." 



142 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" But you needn't look as if you were thirty. Need 
she, Miss Simkins ?" 

" My gracious, no." 

" I know what I want. Mother." 

" She has always known what she wanted ever since 
she was a baby. The thing is, is there enough stuff? 
I got five yards." 

" Well, five yards would be very bare. Um — yes 
those sleeves do cut into it. I'd have to have some joins." 

" I hate joins," said Edna, passionately. 

" You could have the collar and different sleeves." 

" I suppose you haven't got 'Vogue' ?" 

" Well, no, Miss Bowker. I don't get 'Vogue'. You 
wouldn't believe how much those books cost." 

" I do think 'Vogue' is so chick." 

She looked intently at the illustrations. Would she 
really look like that if Miss Simkins copied the dress ? 
She was always filled with an agony of hope when the 
dressmaker came, but she had never got exactly what 
she wanted. Not exactly. 

" If," she said dreamily, " I could only have a little 
feather hat like that." 

" We might see," said Mrs. Bowker. " We'll price 
them. Mr. Bowker," she explained, " thinks the world 
of his girlies. He likes them to look their best. What I 
say to him is, he won't have the privilege of buying 
their clothes for long. Edna's as good as engaged now." 

" Mother," cried Edna, " you shouldn't say that, 
there's nothing fixed." 

" I only said "as good as'." Edna plunged down among 
the fashion books. She tried not to hear her mother. 
She couldn't imagine why she felt so uncomfortable. 

Mrs Bowker lowered her voice, presumably that the 
spirit of romance, now hovering over the house, might 



THE DRESSMAKER 143 

not take fright. " Such a nice young fellow. He'll have 
plenty by and bye. He's got his car and all that now." 

" How nice," said Miss Simkins. 

" Edna's had plenty of chances, but this time it's 
serious. Alan is mad about her. Everybody has noticed 
it. So you see we want to make a special effort with her 
clothes." 

Miss Simkins saw perfectly. She bit off a length of 
cotton. 

The maid brought in morning tea. " I think morning 
tea is a mistake," said Mrs. Bowker. " It spoils lunch." 
Miss Simkins couldn't help hoping there would be some- 
thing worth spoiling. Her early breakfast had been a 
very ghostly affair. For the present there was thin 
captain biscuits, buttered but rather soft. 

" Do mind the butter," cried Mrs. Bowker in an agony 
of anxiety. 

Edna wandered out into the kitchern and returned 
with a slice of cake in one hand, and a tart in the other. 
" I'm always eating," she said, laughing it off. 

The machine whirred, Mrs. Bowker ran in tackings, 
Edna still sat hunched over the fashion books. She was 
looking at wedding dresses, and her lips moved as if she 
were telling herself a story. " There's some finishing 
you can do, Edna," said her mother. " U-um — half 
minute," answered the girl. 

Miss Simkins was turning the Bowkers over in her 
private mind. She supposed they were a happy family. 
They all^ thought a lot of one another. But she really 
couldn't see why. They weren't very exciting, were they? 
She had seen Mr. Bowker. He had a brick red face and 
very thick, red eyebrows. She supposed Mrs. Bowker 
had been romantic about him once. Edna's young man 
they were so pleased about, was probably ordinary too. 



144 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

Really, some people got everything very easily. It didn't 
matter a bit that Mrs. Bowker was stout and stupid and 
rather mean too, or that Edna was spoilt and affected, 
or that everything about them was utterly, overwhelm-, 
ingly commonplace. They had one another, they had 
Mr. Bowker, a man, to fend for them. It made all the 
difference. 

Mrs. Bowker went on talking. " My son says. . . . My 
husband. . . Our girlies. . Edna .... Joycie. . . . My 
son . . . My hubbie . . . ." It wasn't necessary to 
hsten. Miss Simkins knew all that — from the outside. 

Then it was lunch time. Miss Simkins gave two pokes 
to her hair, shook the cottons from her skirt^ and they 
went into the cold, rather dark, dining-room. Miss 
Simkins looked round the table and her heart sank. It 
was corned beef and carrots. Miss Simkins had noticed 
that it was always either corned beef or sausages — ^never 
a roast or fillet steak or boiled chicken or fried sole — ^but 
it was a mistake to think of these things for they made 
the corned beef, with its rind of thick, yellow fat and its 
mottled, brownish flesh, (bought ready cooked at the 
smaUgoods shop, she knew) and the hot carrots, smelling 
of earth, lying beside the cold meat on the warm plate, 
seem even more unappetising than it was. People must 
think that dressmakers liked corned beef and sausages 
above everything else. No, it wasn't that. People didn't 
think at aU, that was the hardest part to bear. 

Edna, it appeared, was not going to have corned beef. 
She had a chop instead. She explained that it was left 
over from last night, and it would be a pity to waste it. 
It did not look at all left over, but was fresh and juicy 
with a rich grayy mottling the plate. It smelt most 
appetising too, and when Edna put a lump of butter on 



THE DRESSMAKER 145 

top of it, peppering it well, that chop fairly took hold 
of Miss Simkins' imagination. 

Neither, it turned out, was Mrs. Bowker going to have 
corned beef. She never took meat more than once a day, 
and they were having a nice little stuffed shoulder for 
dinner. The corned beef, it was obvious, had been bought 
entirely for Miss Simkins — a quarter of a pound. Mrs. 
Bowker had lettuce, and cheese, and brown bread, and 
some stewed apple with the cream off the milk. She 
needed, she said, something nourishing, she ate so little. 
They ought to be glad they had their appetites. Edna said 
mother ate nothing, and she was glad Miss Simkins was 
there because often she felt such a beast, eating a hearty 
lunch while mother just pecked. Mrs. Bowker's delicacy 
did not show, however, unless it was in her habit of look- 
ing intently, and rather suspiciously at every piece, of 
food before she took it on her plate. 

Miss Simkins' heart rebelled against the corned beef. 
She longed to say that she didn't eat it, but she was 
hungry, and there did not appear to be anything else. 
Besides, it would be rude. Mrs. Bowker would probably 
remember it against her, and not send for her again. She 
put a small piece of meat in her mouth. It lay cold and 
dead on her tongue. It seemed utterly alien. It was very 
stupid and very gross to feel so keenly about food. But 
she did. She could have wept. 

Lunch over. Miss Simkins felt more cheerful, despite 
herself. Also the sun had reached the glassed-in verandah 
and it was now bright and pleasant. The warmth brought 
a familiar, friendly, oily smell out of the sewing machine 
and the light was better. Edna had a fitting. She dis- 
liked being fitted, because Miss Simkins had cold hard 
fingers, and because she stood so close that she could 
feel her breath on her neck, her bare arms, her cheek. 



146 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

She could see Miss Simkins' scalp, greyish white, through 
her course, dun-coloured hair. She could see the enlarged 
pores on her nose and she hated it. She hated having 
anybody touch her, except her own people — or Allan. 
She stood like a dummy while her mother and Miss 
Simkins argued over the dress. 

" Well, Mrs. Bowker, that was how we always did it 
at Summerhayes in London — on the right side. You'll 
see when it's finished it'll look all right. M. Pitot would 
have taken a fit if anyone had done it different. They 
never do in France." 

Mrs. Bowker was impressed. Even she had heard of 
Summerhayes in London. 

" Well," she said, " I suppose you know. Miss Simkins. 
Only I was taught different. Not that I'm much of a 
hand at sewing. With four children, one has just to do 
the best one can and do it quickly. I never knew you were 
at Summerhayes." 

" Why, yes, Mrs. Bowker, I had a very good position 
there. I was with them for ten years, and I rose to be 
head of one of the rooms. Not the fitting, that was 
M. Pitot. I used to do all the trimming and finishing, 
and dresses were trimmed in those days — before the war. 

" Fancy," said Mrs. Bowker, and, after a pause : " I 
wonder you left it to come out here." 

" I never thought I'd come to dressmaking by the day, 
I never did. You see I left to get married. I had a great 
disappointment. I think you can take it off now, Miss 
Bowker. Mind the pins. It was all very strange how it 
came about. More like a novel than real life, I always 
say. My romance, I mean." 

Miss Simkins laughed self-consciously, and Mrs. Bowker 
said " Fan~cy," again. 



THE DRESSMAKER Ul 

" I was at Summerhayes and I used to take my fort- 
night's holiday in August. This particular August I \\ ent 
away \\-ith another of the young ladies to a place in 
Norfolk. \A'e used to go boating on the Broads with a 
gentleman acquaintance we made, and one day we had 
an accident. There was a boat coming towards us with 
several yoimg men in it, and one of them played the fool, 
and well — somehow or other thej" ran into us and we 
capsized. I couldn't swim a stroke and I reall}' think I 
would have been drowned if one of the strange young 
gentlemen hadn't jumped in and rescued me. I was wet 
through, of course, and rather frightened. Dear, he was 
in a way about me. He put his coat round me and rowed 
me to the landing stage as fast as he could. Then he got 
a cab and took me and my friend home. You wouldn't 
beheve how handsome he looked with his w et hair plast- 
tered to his forehead, and his shirt clinging to his broad 
shoulders. He came the next day to see how I was, and 
the day after that. And then we started going out for 
walks together, and I hardly saw anjiiiing of my friend 
for the rest of the hohdaJ^ She was quite snappy about 
it, I remember." 

" Excuse me, Miss Simkins, but you won't forget 
we're having the collar two inches TOder than the pat- 
tern ?" 

*■ No, 1 haven't forgotten, Mrs. Bowker — this is the 
cuff. I went back to London and so did he. He w as in 
an office not far away from the shop and we saw one an- 
other a lot. He was mad about me, Mrs. Bowker." 

"It's too Uke a book," thought Edna. " I don't be- 
heve it. " 

" It seems he didn't Uke being in an office, and he had 
great ideas of coming out to Austraha and farming. He 
had some money, but his people didn't hke the idea of 



148 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

him leaving England. Well, I backed him up. There 
are too many clerks in London. It was up to him to do 
more with his life than that. I do believe in ambition, 
don't you, Mrs. Bowker ?" 

" Why, yes. I always say to my boy " 

But this was Miss Simkins' hour, she swept on. " Arthur 
thought a lot of my judgment. He said if I'd marry him 
he'd be ready for anything. So we were engaged, and he 
took me to see his mother and sister but they were very 
stiff with me. You see, they thought I was stealing 
Arthur and influencing him to leave England. I was all 
for marrying and coming out with Arthur, but he said 
no, he'd have a home for me first. He wasn't going to 
have me roughing it. He was a very chivalrous nature 
and he couldn't bear me to have so much as a finger ache." 

" No, Elaine," he said, " I'll have to earn you first." 
(" My name's Elaine. My mother was very romantic. 
The Lily Maid of Astolat, you know.") 

Edna couldn't help looking at the mole on Miss Sim- 
kins' chin, with its little fountain of hairs. 

" After a year Arthur wrote for me to come. He was 
doing better than he expected, and had a little home 
ready for me. His property was out from Goulbum, 
very good land, and he'd had a good season. (I had all 
my linen ready and a lot of other things.) I spent all my 
savings on an outfit and things for the house, and Summer- 
hayes' gave me my wedding dress. M. Pitot designed it 
himself, so you see what they thought of me." 

" My," said Mrs. Bowker politely. 

" At Melbourne there was a wire for me, but when I 
got to Sydney, no Arthur. I didn't know what to do, 
and while I was waiting on the boat hoping he'd come, 
I got a telegram from the matron of the hospital at 
Goulbum to say Arthur was there and had met with an 



THE DRESSMAKER 149 

accident. I caught the train that night and arrived in 
the early hours of the morning. I found my poor lad very 
ill. It was all on account of me he'd been hurt, for he 
was so anxious to have everything ready for me that he 
worked on into the night, tidying up the place. In the 
dark he stumbled on -an axe and it cut deep into his leg. 
There was no one to help him, and he would have bled 
to death if he hadn't managed to tie up the artery some- 
how. By morning his leg was in such a state he could 
not move it. The neighbour, who had promised to feed 
his horse while he was away, came over two days later — 
the day he was to have come to Sydney for me — and found 
him delirious, with his leg black and swollen. He hurried 
him to hospital, and the matron wired me. 

" Arthur was terribly changed. His face looked small 
like a child's, and his eyes, two black pits in it. They 
had to amputate his poor leg, but that didn't do him 
any good. He wasted and wasted. They were kind to 
me at the hospital, and let me stay with him. (He 
wanted so much to get better, and even when he was at 
his worst he knew me.) One day he said, " I want to 
make my will, Ellie. Will you get me a lawyer ?" But 
I laughed and said, " Plenty of time for that. You'll 
only have to make another as soon as you're married." 
I didn't want him to think he was dying, you see. He 
didn't ask again, and that afternoon he said he was feeling 
better and had less pain, but in the night, at two o'clock, 
he died." 

Miss Simkins was sitting quite still with her hands in 
her lap, looking out of the window. Edna felt terribly 
uncomfortable. Mrs. Bowker was embarrassed too, and 
thought she really ought to suggest that Miss Simkins 
went on with her work. 



150 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

" I was very ill with grief and shock myself then, and 
when I got better I'd no money left, and no claim on 
anything of Arthur's. His mother thought if it hadn't 
been for me he'd have been alive still, so she had the 
land and our little house sold and didn't give me any- 
thing." 

Miss Simkins fell to machining again. Mrs. Bowker 
and Edna looked at one another. 

The dress was finished and Miss Simkins had gone 
before Joyce came home from school. She was a fair, 
leggy girl, full of vitality and curiosity. Even the 
advent of the dressmaker seemed to her an incident 
out of which some excitement could be squeezed. She 
began to pester her mother with questions. " How did 
Miss Simkins get on ? Did she bring some nice fashion 
books ? Did she have any news ?" 

" Well, she talked a lot," said Mrs. Bowker. 

" What did she say ? What did she say ?" cried Joyce, 
jumping up and down. 

" She told us the story of her life," answered Mrs. 
Bowker, beginning to smile. 

" Did she have an exciting Ufe ?" 

" I'm afraid not." 

" What happened ?" 

" The usual thing," Edna cut in. " She nearly got 
married, but not quite." 

" She talks too much," said Mrs. Bowker. " I don't 
think we can have her again." 



Miss Simkins went home happy. Always when she had 
told her story she had a sense of exaltation. She had 
had romance, even if she hadn't been able to keep it. 



THE DRESSMAKER 151 

She couldn't help thinking that there was something 
fine about her tragedy. It was more beautiful than the 
commonplace happiness of mediocre people. 

Tonight she was going to give herself a little treat. 
She bought a portion of steamed chicken, a paper bag 
of potato crisps, a punnet of strawberries, and a little 
carton of mixed nuts. 

" Why not ?' she asked herself, defiantly. 



152 THE PERSIMMON TREE 



DRY SPELL 



I walked because there was no reason for stopping, 
because it was more intolerable to stay still, and because 
I wanted to reach the sea. I wanted to wade out into 
the water and perform some ritual act — like the Doge 
wedding Venice to the Adriatic, or WilUam the Con- 
queror with his hands full of symbohc mud, or Cuchulain, 
or McDouall Stuart rushing into the Indian Ocean when 
he had crossed the continent, or Cortes greeting the 
Pacific — ^but was that Pisarro, or was it somebody else 
altogether, Drake perhaps ? My mind caught painfully 
on the doubt like a plane running on a knot of hardwood. 
It upset me. I began rubbing my hand across my chin 
again, and listening to my footsteps. The things I had 
not been thinking came closer. 

I was coming into the city along Anzac Parade. It 
was late and quiet. Occasionally a tram passed, an empty, 
illuminated box, leaping on the rails under a crackle of 
blue sparks. The trees were black, and their leaves 
made a little dry sound like ghostly butter pats. There 
were no soft, rounded, sounds in the night, only dry 
brittle ones, and the pavement was gritty under my 
feet. My lips tasted of dust as they always did. The 
torrid street lamps were like sores on the. night. 

Walking alone at night always stimulated my imagina- 
tion and now I was exalted as if with fever. But it was 
the city's fever, not mine. Images, like the empty, lit 
tram, ran through my mind and I was aware, with a 
febrile intensity, of my surroundings, immediate and 
remote. 

It was the third waterless summer, and the heat had 
come down like a steel shutter over the city. The winters 



DRY SPELL 153 

between had been as bad. Dry, with a parching, un- 
slacked cold ; westerly winds that drove and drove, 
bringing such clarity to the air, that a hill five miles 
away looked near enough to touch. The drought was in 
everything now, penetrating and changing life like blind 
roots at work upon a neglected pavement. The colours 
and quality of the world had been altered in the long 
months of desiccation. The pattern of existence was 
pulled awry. 

Around the city there was a great fan of desolation. 
The sun had beaten the Emu Plains to a black brown on 
which the isolated houses and the townships themselves 
drifted like flotsam on a dead sea. The mountains were 
not blue but purple, a waterless ridge of rocks and 
shadows with the vegetation, except in the deepest 
seams of the valleys, mummified and black. Beyond again 
the Bathurst Plains were like a petrified sea, and very 
quiet. Further west, in an eternity of their own, were 
the iron-hard, fissured Black Soil Plains. There was no 
green anywhere. The stock had been driven away to 
agistment over the border long ago. Or had died. There 
was nothing even for the crows, who last year had had 
their saturnalia. 

The country with its endless, aching death pressed in 
on the city, the drought and the heat pressed on both. 
In the city and its environs its stamp was no less clear. 
The bush on the outskirts was more than half dead. 
Even the deep feeders, the black butts and the hke, were 
d5ang. The life that was left was drawn in and banked 
down, muted and secret. The scrub was shabby and 
colourless. Fire had licked through it, leaving patches of 
black and sharp red-brown. Where there were houses, 
wide fire breaks had been cut as the only protection. 
Water could no longer be relied on to combat the fires. 



154 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

These breaks were raw scars, even on the devastated 
country. They looked like the trail of vengeance. Orchards 
were long since dead, and the trees fallen on the eroded 
ground. On the eastern slopes around Dural the orange 
trees were burnt black. The flats that used to be vege- 
table gardens were bare, the last dried stalks blown 
away. Even Chinamen could make nothing grow. 

In the wealthy suburbs of the North Shore and Vaucluse 
a change had taken place too. It was as if the earth had 
been squeezed so that all the fine houses that had nestled 
so comfortably in the contours and in the greenery, 
were forced up into the light. They bulged out, exposed, 
and the sun tore at them. The gardens that had em- 
bowered them were perished. Tinder dry, fire had been 
through many of them, scorching walls and blistering 
away any paint that remained. Most of these houses 
were empty or inhabited as if they were caves, by people 
who had come in from the stricken country. The owners 
had fled, not so much from present hardship, as from the 
nebulous threat of the future, the sense of being trapped 
in a doomed city. The shores of the harbour were Uon- 
coloured or drab grey. Sandhills showed a vivid whiteness. 
Only the water was ahve and brilUant. And it was salt. 

In the crowded districts, there was less to perish, but 
light and air were equally abrasive, changing aU surfaces, 
fading and nullifying all colour. There was no pleasure 
of touch left anjnvhere, for the dust was undefeatable. 
It pulled down pride and effort. The suburbs sagged 
under an intolerable burden. 

I was perpetually aware of all this. It cumulated into 
a black wave which hung over me in threatening suspense. 
Nothing that I knew had escaped. From my windows I 
looked over the golf course and that had taken, because 
it was defenceless, the clearest print of all. Its silvery 



DRY SPELL L55 

green hills were stripped to pale brown and tawny purple. 
The earth was like starved, sagging flesh on an iron 
skeleton. Here and there a fire had run for a few yards 
before it died for lack of tinder, and left a black smear 
with a little edging of white ash. I used to think that the 
desert of Arizona looked like that. Now I know that 
heat and drought can bring even the gentlest country 
to it. 

There was a man walking in front of me that I hadn't 
noticed before. When he passed a lamp I saw that he 
was a different shape from the pedestrians you'd expect 
to see about there. He was a swaggie all right with his 
roll of old blue blanket across his shoulders, and his 
quart pot dangling from it. I overhauled him. 

" Good-night, mate." 

" 'Night, mate," he answered, as a bushman answers 
the gate-crashing townsman. He was an old-timer, 
might have been a fossicker, short and spare, with a 
wealth of grey whiskers and clothes subdued to use and 
wont as only a bushman's can be. 

" Come far?" I asked him. 

" Middlin' far." 

" Where's that ?" I felt an insatiable curiosity. 

" Back o' beyond." 

I'd seen hundreds Hke him but here there was a sort 
of long range persistance that was impressive. His 
gaunt and bristling dog at heel was cut out of the same 
stuff. My imagination took a leap. 

" Did you ever do a perish on the Diamantina ?" 

" Aye', there and more places besides." 

" And now the track runs through the city?" 

He didn't answer. So that was the way of it. I felt 
coldly sick. Looking back over my shoulder I saw that 
there were others, many of them, moving singly among 



156 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

the trees, all with the same intent, converging, persis- 
tance. It would be the same on all the other highways. 
I took to the middle of the road and, almost, to my heels. 

I reached Taylor Square ahead of them. The neon 
signs were sizzling, and a few shop windows still bulged 
with Ught on the indifferent night. There were hardly 
any people about, but in the narrow, crowded streets at 
the bottom of the hOl there were plenty, sitting on door 
steps or on chairs dragged out on to the pavement. 
Children were playing languidly in the street because it 
was too hot to go to bed. There was a queue at the pump, 
with buckets and kerosene tins and even jugs. 

There was still water in the pipes, brownish stuff with 
a smell, but the pressure was so poor that it didn't reach 
the higher levels, so the pumps had been put in where 
people could come and get it. The city hadn't been used 
to queues, and they were changing peoples' outlook. 
They made new channels for rumour, perhaps for thought. 

So many things were different, and the men's minds 
with them. Unemployment was general either directly 
from scarcity, or from its by-product of apathy. Idleness 
was everywhere and the people were differently distri- 
buted. \Vhole districts were almost depopulated whilst 
others were overcrowded to suffocation. Practically aU 
the food had to be brought in. The Government was 
distributing it as a ration. There was enough, and yet 
it didn't slake the public appetite. There was a sense of 
famine. Even those who were eating better than ever 
before, felt it. The whole of our civilization was piled 
up hke a pyre waiting for the fire to consmne it. 

The cit\- seethed with rumours and with the promulga- 
tors of fantastic schemes, but everyone was fatalistic about 
the drought. They didn't expect it to break, they even 
took an inverted pride in it. It, at least, reUeved them 



DRY SPELL 157 

of the responsibility of living their own lives. There 
was always a crowd at the General Post Office reading the 
bulletins that were posted hourly, but no one believed 
the jargon of lows, depressions and tropical disturbances, 
any more than they beUeved in the bona fides of the clouds 
that often blanketed the sky — as on this night— with 
their barren oppression. Yet nothing else mattered. All 
interest in outside events had been discarded, as if it 
were the most obvious of luxuries. It was obvious that 
something must come sooner or later of this mass tension, 
but no one knew what. It was like a long thunderstorm 
that did not break. Apathy and exasperation were 
racing one another. 

I followed the tramline out of the hot and odorous 
streets. The open space beside the Blind Institute and 
the Domain beyond were crowded with people in search 
of air. They were quiet, bivouaced for the night, but 
never quite still. There was no grass to sit on, only 
dusty earth. The Botanic Gardens were the same, ruined 
between the drought and the tramphng people. Authority 
had long ago given up the thankless task of conserving 
them. 

I no longer wanted to get to the water. These febrile 
cravings died easily. I was just drifting. Did it matter 
what I did, or where I went with those old-timers closing 
in ? The narrow canyons of the city offered no relief. 
There was nothing for the mind to feed on but nostalgia. 
I remembered Macquarie Place, and had a vision of it 
as it used to be, the three-cornered garden, the giant 
Port Jackson figs, dark against the pale soaring buildings, 
the zinnias, the cushiony buffalo grass, the statue, (I 
forget its original), declaiming to the street, the anchor of 
the Sirius on a pedestal, Macquarie's obelisk in its bear 
pit In the early days the officers and the higher 



158 THE PERSIMMON TREE 

officials lived round there. It was their compound where 
the children romped in safety, and in the evening the 
regimental band played under those same trees, lovers 
counted the southern stars between the leaves, and the 
gaiety of exiles flourished by candlelight. It was the 
outpost of something that had had to fall, and it might 
be again. It was a goal, a place with significance in a 
meaningless desert, a spot where we might turn at last 
and resist the invasion, the perishing men who came so 
quietly and surely through the dust. I hastened my 
steps like a hungry man who half remembers some for- 
gotten fragment of food, and hurries back to ransack 
his belongings once more. Down I went through narrow, 
twisting streets, between buildings glowing with heat, 
but dead to light. 

At first sight Macquarie Place did not seem to be 
greatly changed. The trees stiU stood, and the lights 
showed the dark labyrinth of their leaves scarcely 
breeched. It was, like all these places, crowded with 
people. I had the good fortune to find a seat on one of 
the benches. I was shaking with fatigue. All about me 
were points of light from cigarettes, and a murmur of 
talking. Those crowds had their fits of talking and their 
fits of silence. I turned to my neighbour and was sur- 
prised to see that he was apparently in fancy dress, 
white breeches, a tail coat, and a three-cornered hat. 
He was small and sharp, but fine too. Before I could 
speak to him he addressed me. 

"This is nothing new. Sir, it happened before, and worse." 

" Indeed ?" said I, not feeling comfortable. 

" Not so much the drought — though that was bad 
enough, even the parrots were dropping dead out of 
the trees at Rose Hill — but the scarcity. You have no 
conception. Sir, of what it was like then." 



DRY SPELL 159 

" Was that long ago ?" I asked, trembling., 

" Some time ago. There was the same talk then of 
abandoning the settlement but I didn't hsten to it. I 
hope no one listens now. Of course I've no authority 
these days. But if I could hang on surely you could. It was 
two and a half years before ships came from England 
that time. I'd grieve to see my work thrown away now." 

I got up hurriedly. " Good-night, Captain," I said. 

" Captain-General." he corrected me. 

A man buttonholed me. " I've been to the Observatory 
every day but no one will listen to me. In the Book of 
Revelations " 

I broke from him. I hoisted myself on to the pedestal 
and leaned against the anchor. That was something 
solid. Two men below me were quarrelling quietly. I 
tried to speak to them to tell them what would be happen- 
ing to all of us soon. They both fell silent. 

" That's right, mate," said a man beside me, whom 
I had not noticed. " What we want's solidarity." 

I tried to see his face. " Are you real ? " I asked. 

He laughed, and called down to a friend, " Here's a 
poor cove gone balmy." 

There was a roar of laughter, and a screech came up. 
" Don't laugh, you fools, repent." 

I sat trembling with rage. Let it happen to them, 
whatever it was. I wouldn't warn them. 

Two men were talking over my head. 

" There's a change coming." 

" I've heard that before." 

" It's true this time." 

" I don't hold with this metterology. It never did 
anything for us." 

"I don't neither. I know this myself. Smell it, see ? 
You listen, it'll begin anytime." 



160 THK CKKSIMMON' I «KK 

" I'll wait." 
" J- col that '<" 

" Nopf;." 

The country was coming to take its vengeance <m the 
city. Climax. Apotheosis. Then nothing. Come quickly, 
r,omf; quickly. All ugliness, all corruption will he burned 
away, 

"Feel that ? " 

" Something fell on my bakl pate," 

" Rain." 

" (.(, on," 

LISTEN 

Silence fell. There was a crepitation among the leaves. 
Everybody storwi up, stfK;k still. 1 slid from the ped'Atal 
and stood with them. T felt the drops on my fare. I 
was furioas, nothing could hold rnc-. 

" N'o," I shouted. It could)i't corne now. It was iiy<> 
late, <^>ur fate was on us. We were gmng up in fir*:, 
con.summated. It was agr/ny to tiirn ba/,k now with the 
end we had toilf;d sf; long to reach in sight. 

There were iM-/)p]i: holding me. " It isn't tnje," I cried. 
" ft won't happen. No rain ever," 

Someone forced me to my knees. There was a great 
silent ring of perjple around me, A match was ,struck 
and held in a cupped hand. I stared at the asphalt. 
Great black drof..s were falling on it, drying, disappearing, 
coming again, faster and faster, making a pattern like 
the leaves against the light, then coalescing and defacing 
itself, I st-ATtA and stared, (hit on the roads, that 
pattern was tangling the feet of thfr jj<-rishing men, 
turning them back. Notfiing would atmi; of it now, 
.Nothing would .save us. We mast take up the burden of 
remaking our wr^rld.